Set hearts aflutter with Butterfly Education and Awareness Day

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Butterfly Education and Awareness Day (BEAD) takes place on the first Saturday of June each year. 2018 will be the 8th annual BEAD, an initiative started by the Association for Butterflies in America. This is a non-profit organisation which is dedicated to the welfare of butterflies, helping to promote the conservation and research of these beautiful winged insects.

Not only are they pleasing to look at, butterflies are important pollinators – just like bees! They also provide a brilliant example of metamorphosis, shown in the process of changing from a caterpillar to an adult butterfly.

Here are 10 fascinating facts about butterflies:

1. Butterflies are cold-blooded

Butterflies are cold-blooded and can’t fly if their body temperature is less than 30 degrees Celsius. This means that, when the weather is cold, butterflies are completely immobile and cannot escape predators. On cooler days, they must warm up by shivering and basking in the sunshine before they can take flight.

2. They have no mouth

Butterflies have a straw-like mouthpiece called a proboscis to suck up their food with. When not being used, it’s curled up under their chin. Butterflies can only consume liquids, such as nectar, from flowers. However, some species have been known to feed off sap and others have a taste for decaying animals.

3. They use their feet to ‘taste’ plants

Butterflies use their feet to ‘taste’ a plant before deciding whether or not it’s a good place to lay their eggs. A female will drum the leaves with her feet until the plant releases its juices. Then, chemical receptors on her legs will be able to determine whether the leaf will be a good fit for her young to feed off once they’re hatched.

4. Butterflies like to drink from muddy puddles

Butterflies drink from puddles to supplement their usual liquid diet of nectar. They need minerals and salts, which can be found in muddy puddles. This behaviour is most often observed in male butterflies, as the minerals in the water help them produce healthy sperm for the female to use.

5. Butterflies are good at deterring predators

Butterflies have lots of ways of preventing themselves from getting eaten. Some fold their wings in such a way that they can easily blend in with their surroundings. Others do the exact opposite by having bright colours on their wings which carry a simple message: “Stay away!” In nature, insects with vibrant and colourful markings deter predators, as they’re often toxic.

6. Once hatched, they can’t fly straightaway

A butterfly which has newly emerged from its chrysalis can’t fly straightaway. When the butterfly is still developing, their wings are folded neatly around their body. Once it hatches from the chrysalis, it must pump blood into its wings to help them expand. Once they’ve reached full size, the butterfly must then wait a few hours for its body to dry and harden up before it can fly.

7. Butterfly wings are actually see-through

When you look at a butterfly, they are a marvel of beautiful colours. But their wings are actually transparent and covered in thousands of scales which reflect light in different colours. Under those scales, the wings are formed of a protein called chitin. As the butterfly ages, its scales fall off and you can often see the transparent wings exposed underneath.

8. Butterflies have an external skeleton

Like all insects, butterflies have six jointed legs and three body parts: the head, the upper body (thorax) and the abdomen. Unlike humans, whose bones are internal, butterflies have an external skeleton (exoskeleton). The thickness of the butterfly’s exoskeleton varies depending on the vulnerability of the organs underneath. The abdomen has the thickest protection as it contains essential organs used in egg laying and digestion.

9. It was believed that butterflies had a taste for dairy

There are several theories surrounding how the butterfly got its name. Evidently, it’s a combination of the 2 words ‘butter’ and ‘fly’. The insect’s name is possibly based on an old belief that they would consume uncovered butter or milk. A second theory is that many species of butterfly have wings with a distinct yellow hue.

10. They have a very short life

We are all familiar with the life cycle of a butterfly, which is made up of four parts: egg, caterpillar, chrysalis and the fully-formed adult. Sadly, butterflies have a short average lifespan which is typically just 2 to 4 weeks. However, some species can live much longer. The longest lifespan is that of a monarch butterfly, which can live up to 12 months.

Ideas and activities to celebrate Butterfly Education and Awareness Day:

–  Explore the life cycle of a butterfly
–  Invite an enthusiast to come to your setting to talk about butterflies and their habitat
–  Get up close to hundreds of butterflies with a visit to a local tropical indoor garden or butterfly house
–  Find a reliable caterpillar supplier and purchase a start-up kit to raise butterflies in your setting
–  Look carefully at the live caterpillars, observing them using magnifying devices
–  Plan a ‘release ceremony’ when it’s time to free the butterflies into the outdoors, close to an appropriate food source

If you need help identifying a butterfly, be sure to make a note of its colour and markings, then visit https://butterfly-conservation.org/50/identify-a-butterfly.html

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