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The butterfly

29 July 2014

 

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Butterflies and moths are members of the Order Lepidoptera of the Class Insecta. They are scaly-winged insects and have membranous wings that are covered with overlapping, dust-like, microscopic scales. The name of the Order Lepidoptera is derived from the ancient Greek words lepidos for a scale and pteron for a wing.

There are some 20 000 species of butterfly in the world, of which 666 are known to occur in South Africa in 19 subfamilies. Carolus Linnaeus, a Swedish-born naturalist, was the first to describe the butterflies scientifically in the 18 th century. The species are differentiated partly on the basis of the patterns which the scales form on the wing.

Butterflies are ancient insects and could have flown around the dinosaurs as the oldest known fossil butterflies date back to 65 million years ago. Fossil butterflies that are preserved perfectly occur in amber deposits in the Dominican Republic that are 40 to 50 million years old. The name butterfly is of Middle-English origin and refers to the beating of the wings. The butterfly is a symbol in many ancient cultures, including that of the Maya, and usually represents beauty and rebirth. However, in some regions a butterfly is regarded as an omen of evil and some battles have even been suspended because of the sighting of a butterfly. The ancient Greek name means soul or mind. The tomb... (Become a subscriber for more)

References:

Anon 2004. Butterfly fossils. www.crystalinks.com/fossilbutterfly.html

Anon 2011. Top 10 rarest butterflies in the world. www.johnmcnamara.hubpages.com

Anon 2013. Butterfly evolution www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Butterfly_evolution

Anon 2013. Butterflies in ancient Egypt. www.frontpage.swan.ac.uk/egypt/infosheetgen/butterflies_in_ancient_egypt.html

Woodhall, S 2005. Field guide to butterflies of South Africa. Cape Town: Struik Nature.

Article by Prof J du P Bothma

 

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