Fantastic 5 – Beneficial Insects: The Butterfly

    
butterfly

The most beautiful of the Fantastic 5 beneficial insects , the butterfly uses its wings as a defense mechanism against predators.

by Jason Johnson

Our penultimate insect hero is definitely one of the more colourful characters on the lists (sorry ladybug!). An insect of grace and beauty, none of the other members of the Fantastic 5 even realize that the butterfly was once one of their sworn enemies – a caterpillar. Fortunately through the power of metamorphoses, the butterfly has evolved from a filthy, garden destroying foe, to pleasant and bright friend.

Prey

Like many of the insects on the list, the butterfly is not predatory by nature. Much like my summer diet, the butterfly can eat anything that can dissolve in water.

Butterflies possess a straw-like apparatus that is situated in their mouths called the proboscis. They use the proboscis to slurp up nectar from a flower (and in my case, aspirin dissolved in water after a long night out).

Butterflies have been known to ingest the sap of trees as well as pollen and dung.

Another cool fact about the butterflies’ eating habits is that they actually taste with their feet. So they would land on a flower and immediately have a sense of what the flower would taste like.

Super Powers

Aside from helping the butterfly stay in the air, their wings serve a greater purpose. Technically their wings can’t quite be classified as a super power, but more of a defence mechanism. Over time they have developed brightly coloured wings to ward off predators. This is an evolutionary trick developed by many creatures like lizards, frogs and even some snakes. In nature, bright colours serve as a warning to predators to stay away.

On the subject of colour, unlike most insects, butterflies can actually see colour. They can see practically anything for that matter. Butterflies are equipped with amazing eyesight. This is because most butterflies have eyes made up of over 60 000 lenses enabling them to see types of lights that humans are unable to see.

This amazing eyesight has also given the butterfly remarkable reflexes and allows them to dodge moving vehicles on the highway in the blink of an eye.

Kryptonite

Many organic gardeners opt for natural repellents to get rid of moths and these repellents are as effective against butterflies as well.

Butterflies can not stand the smell of garlic. A simple way to repel butterflies and keep your plants safe from harmful chemicals is to simply place a few cloves of garlic around the plants. Alternatively, crush the cloves and mix with chilli powder, olive oil and water and mix into a spray bottle.

Spray over your plants but don’t douse them as the chilli may have a negative effect on the plants. The idea is that the butterflies don’t land onto the plants.

Natural enemies

While like you, I can’t imagine anyone wanting to harm these beautiful creatures, but there are a few creatures that see butterflies as just an exotic meal. Butterflies often fall prey to birds, lizards and frogs.

There is also that pesky wasp/hornet family (is there anything these things don’t eat?!) that love making a meal of butterflies. What’s more, is that certain species of wasps inject their eggs into the butterflies. The microscopic larvae then feed on the unborn caterpillar and once they are ready, they emerge from the butterfly egg.

It has been reported that as many as 60 wasps can hatch out of one of these eggs. I wonder how mother butterfly would explain that to the father butterfly.
Both beautiful and mysterious, the butterfly has long been a metaphor for change. While it has a history as a garden destroying gangster, the butterfly has emerged from its cocoon to capture the imaginations of humankind.

Too much? Okay, too much. I like butterflies.

 

 

The Fantastic 5 – Beneficial Bugs: The lacewing fly
The invaders of urban territories: Rats

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