March 14th is National Learn about Butterflies Day: a day dedicated to exploring the most familiar and admirable insect. Butterflies occur on every continent except Antarctica, and are important pollinators in our ecosystems. Take time to observe our fluttering friends as they take to the skies in early spring. Monarch butterflies are the only migratory butterflies, and are noteworthy in their impressive flight distances from Mexico to the northern United States and Canada.
Butterflies are closely related to moths, but differ in a few ways. Butterflies are more active in the daytime, generally being brighter in color than moths. Butterfly wings stand vertically when resting. The wings of butterflies and moths are covered with microscopic scales that appear as a powder to the naked eye, and grant neutral or iridescent colors to the wings.
Butterflies have four stages of their life cycle beginning with an egg that hatches into a caterpillar. The caterpillar spends its days eating in preparation to build itself a chrysalis within which it undergoes metamorphosis. In the chrysalis, the caterpillar’s body cells completely break down to rebuild itself into the winged butterfly.
The best way to learn more about these creatures is to observe them. Plant a native wildflower garden providing food and a habitat for them, grab a lawn chair, and watch as the butterflies flutter by. Visit AMNH’s Environments of Africa hall to view our fantastic display of butterflies and moths.