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Butterflies… as adapted as can be!

Diversity of butterflies
Credit: Insectarium de Montréal (André Sarrazin)
Diversity of butterflies
  • Diversity of butterflies
  • Graphium agamemnon
  • Morpho helenor
  • Morpho butterfly
  • Morpho helenor
  • Banded peacock (Papilio palinurus)
Butterflies… as adapted as can be!

Butterflies have existed on Earth for more than 200 million years. In the beginning they would have lived in the shadow of the dinosaurs, with a nocturnal lifestyle. But about 70 million years ago, a small group of butterflies seems to have adapted to life in full daylight – which is how colorful insects came into being.

To be or not to be in the crosshairs

With a number of today’s butterflies, displaying lively colors allows them to communicate messages to others of the same species. For example, the colorful patterns on their wings make it possible for butterflies to recognize one another in order to mate. Some females will even demonstrate a preference for males that sport spectacular coloring, a useful indicator of good health.

Flashing is therefore highly useful for charming a partner, but what happens in the case of predators? How do you attract certain creatures while at the same time concealing yourself from others? To offset their conspicuous colors, a number of species present cryptic coloring under their wings. When at rest, the butterfly subtly camouflages itself against vegetation. Neither seen nor heard…

The remarkable morpho

The common morpho (Morpho sp.), several species of which exist in tropicalAmerica, is a good example of the biological role of colors in butterflies. By exhibiting the iridescent blue on the upper side of its wings, it signals its presence to potential partners. It produces at that point a sparkling effect visible from far away, even in conditions involving dim rainforest light.

If needed, the morpho can also disappear into its surroundings, well protected by the darker hues of its closed wings. On top of all that, it boasts circular marks called “ocelli,” or eyespots. At the present time there’s no scientific consensus on the precise function of the ocelli, but it seems that they may cause predators to flee thanks to a surprise effect.

In short, the morpho’s infinitely complex coloring combines the shimmering luster of seduction with the subtle shades of survival.

The thousand colors of evolution

Iridescence, camouflage, elaborate details … An incredible diversity of colors and displays has developed over millions of years of evolution. Today we’re familiar with roughly 157,400 butterfly species in the world, and new ones are discovered very year.

So let’s let ourselves be swept away at Butterflies Go Free. It’s true: experiencing the multicolored magic of these astonishingly well adapted insects makes us feel that much better!

For a deeper understanding of the physical phenomena involved in the coloring on butterfly wings, consult the blog When the sun says hello to butterflies.

To create butterfly gardens in town, which means taking an active part in protecting their biodiversity, see the blog article City butterflies.

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