BUTTERFLY AND MOTH

    To a poet butterflies and moths are like fluttering flowers. Scientists know them as a group of insects that make up the order Lepidoptera, meaning "scale wings." They are so named because their wings and certain portions of their bodies are covered with a fine dust. Under a microscope the dust is seen to be made up of millions of finely ridged scales that are arranged in overlapping rows. Each scale has a tiny "stem" that fits into a cuplike socket. The beautiful colors and markings of the insect are due to the scales, which come in a remarkable variety of colors.

   Butterflies and moths look very much alike. The best way to tell them apart is to examine their antennae, or feelers. Butterfly antennae are slender and the ends are rounded into little clubs or knobs. Moth antennae lack these knobs. Many of them look like tiny feathers, and some are threadlike.

   Most butterflies fly and feed during the daytime. Moths fly at night. Butterflies rest with their wings held upright over their backs, and moths with their wings outspread. These are not safe rules to follow, however, for some moths are lovers of sunshine and some fold their wings. The honors for beautiful coloration are about evenly divided. The pale green luna moth and the rich reddish brown cecropia moth are as handsome as any of their gay cousins.

   Different kinds of butterflies and moths live throughout the world--in temperate regions, high in snowy mountains, in deserts, and in hot, steamy jungles. They vary in size from the great Atlas moth of India, which is 10 inches from tip to tip of the spread wings, to the Golden Pygmy of Great Britain, which is only 1/5 inch across. In North America north of Mexico there are 8,000 kinds of moths, but only 700 kinds of butterflies.

   Like all insects, the butterflies and moths have three pairs of legs and a body that is divided into three sections--head, thorax, and abdomen. On the thorax, or middle section of the body, are two pairs of wings. The pair in front are usually the larger. The scales on the wings contain a pigment that gives the insect some of its color.

   Certain colors, however, and the iridescent shimmer come from the fine ridges on the scales. The ridges break up the light into the various colors of the spectrum. The beautiful blues, for example, are due to the way in which the light strikes the scales.

   These insects feed on the nectar of flowers and on other plant liquids. The mouth is a long slender sucking tube. When it is not in use it is coiled up like a delicate watch spring. By uncoiling the tube, the insect probes deep into the flowers and sucks up the nectar. Some kinds of insects have spines on the tip of the tube that tear the plant tissues of ripe fruits and start the juices flowing. Certain kinds have imperfectly developed mouth parts and do not feed at all. Soon after they become adult insects they mate, lay their eggs, and then die.

   As the adults visit the flowers in search of nectar, they rub against the stamens and pistils, and so help in the process of pollination. The pronuba moth that pollinates the desert yucca is particularly interesting in this respect.

Butterflies and Moths as a Hobby

    Making a collection of butterflies and moths, carefully mounted and accurately labeled, is a fine hobby . It is interesting to raise these insects from eggs and observe their life history. The abundant monarch butterfly is a good species to start with. Any weedy field with milkweed growing in it is a good place to find eggs and caterpillars. They are to be found on the underside of the leaves.

   Do not disturb the eggs or the caterpillar, but pick the plant to which they are attached. Place the plant in a can filled with water to keep the milkweed fresh. Wire such as florists use will hold the weed upright. As the milkweed begins to wither, replace it with a fresh leafy stalk, and let the caterpillar crawl onto it. Monarchs will not eat anything but milkweed, so do not experiment with some other plant.

   After five molts the caterpillar reaches a length of about 2 inches and is ready to pupate. Care must be taken to prevent its escape. In nature it will leave the milkweed and crawl to some high support. Strip off the lower leaves of the plant so that they do not form a bridge across the can. The can and the plant also may be covered with a wire screen.

   On a rib or stem of the plant or on the screen itself, the caterpillar begins to spin its silk button. Through a magnifying glass the silk can be seen issuing from spinnerets in the head. When the button is completed, the caterpillar turns around, attaches the hooks at the end of its body to the silk, and then gradually releases its hold until it is hanging free, upside down. Several hours elapse. When the long antennae at the head end become limp and shriveled, the caterpillar is ready to turn into a pupa. Some time before the old skin is ready to split open, the caterpillar begins to swing and jerk. Suddenly at the top of the head the skin opens, and with thrashing movements the insect rolls it up toward the silk button. What is revealed is a beautiful case of jade green studded with golden dots. The pupa case twitches for about two hours, meanwhile shrinking in size. Finally it becomes still. Pupation is completed.

   In about two weeks the pupa begins to turn dark. When it is black and transparent, the case opens and the butterfly pulls itself free. For breeding monarchs, the adult must be confined to a cage and provided with a mate. It must have sugared water for nourishment and more milkweed on which the female may lay its eggs. If set free, it can migrate, perhaps thousands of miles, with others of its kind.

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