I recently visited the Butterfly Pavilion at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix. Inside, butterflies were landing on everything including my husband. There were flowers, saucers of water and fruit for the many colorful creatures to dine and drink. It was an amazing experience to be surrounded by hundreds of fluttering delicate butterflies.
We watched the butterflies sip nectar from plants and took pictures as they perched in the sun. Some species of butterflies need more sodium than they get in flowers and, if a person is available, may land on a human to get salt off a body' s perspiration. Rotting fruit and mud supply other nutrients and minerals. While the adult eats nectar, not damaging host plants, the youthful caterpillar is often destructive eating up plant leaves.
Butterflies are active during the day and sleep at night. Some adults may only live a week. Others, often migratory species, such as Monarchs, may live a year. The Monarch travels all the way from Canada and the northern U.S. to Mexico to breed. Migratory species orient themselves by the sun.
Some species have long larval (caterpillar) life stages. Butterflies have four wings covered with minute scales, which create the coloration. Colors are often designed to confuse predators. Many types of butterflies have eyespots on their wings that may not only confuse their predators, but may also attract mates.
Butterflies cannot fly immediately after emerging from the cocoon. They have to inflate their wings with blood and then let them dry. Some butterflies may take up to three hours to dry their wings. Most dry in an hour. During this time, they are vulnerable to predators. Once their wings are developed and dry and they start flitting from flower to flower, butterflies become important pollinators able to move pollen over long distances.
Butterflies use their antennae to "smell" and special receptors on their feet to "taste." Their sense of taste is 200 times stronger than a human's. These really are amazing animals. The next time you think about killing caterpillars, remember there may be a wonderful butterfly inside that you will need to pollinate plants in your yard.
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JoAnne Skelly is the Carson City/Storey County Extension educator for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.