Butterflies and moths belong to the order Lepidoptera, a word derived from the Greek words lepis (scale) and ptera (wing). Their wings are covered in tiny scales, overlapping like shingles on a roof. These scales give the butterflies and moths their wing patterns, and make them more aerodynamic, a little like feathers on a bird's wing. However, unlike birds, when butterflies and moths lose scales on their wings, they can still fly. Depending on the amount of scales lost, it may make them less aerodynamic and affect their flight pattern slightly, but it will not kill them. Some species of butterflies and moths actually have very few scales, resulting in partially or entirely clear wings. It's really not much different than most other insects with wings, such as dragonflies and wasps.
Butterflies and moths naturally lose scales throughout their lives. They often rub some off in the course of emerging from their pupa, in addition to losing scales while flying, and from escaping from birds or other animals (nothing like a mouthful of powdery scales to make you change your mind about a meal!).
Although butterflies and moths are certainly delicate, they are much hardier than many people give them credit for. So the next time you encounter a butterfly or moth, don't be afraid to coax it onto your hand if it wishes to cooperate! Handle it gently, don't try to pet it, and enjoy its beauty!
|One of many species of clear-winged butterflies from South America|
|Close-up of the clear patch and surrounding scales on the wing of Rothschildia lebeau forbesi (see previous blog post)|