Metamorphosis

Look: 7 incredible views into the mysterious lives of butterflies

They’re more than just flashy colors.

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There’s no mistaking the beauty of butterflies.

But besides their eye-catching colors, these insects are incredibly important pollinators for ecosystems worldwide.

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They also help contain pests and provide nutrients to the species that snack on them.

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Their lives are full of curious events, from metamorphosis to migration as adults.

Many aspects of butterfly life still remain a mystery.

But in recent years, scientists have captured some incredible moments that give new insight into some of the world’s most captivating insects.

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Here are 7 incredible views into butterfly life:

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7. Growth spurt

Researchers writing November 22 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences imaged the growth of microscopic scales on the wings of Painted Lady butterflies.

Anthony McDougal and Sungsam Kang

Here’s a scan from inside the chrysalis, during the insect’s metamorphosis. The study helped researchers understand the timeline of wing formation.

Anthony McDougal and Sungsam Kang

6. Follow your own path

Blue Morpho butterflies living in the Amazon have distinct flight patterns depending on which strata of the rainforest they occupy, write researchers in the journal Science on November 25.

Camille Le Roy

They recorded several species, including canopy-dweller Morpho cisseis, to see how its flight pattern differed from others and to better understand flight evolution.

Camille Le Roy

5. Food fight

When they’re hungry, monarch butterfly caterpillars will headbutt each other as they compete for food.

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Researchers reported this aggressive behavior in 2020 in the journal iScience.

Keene et al.

4. Poison control

Monarch butterflies eat milkweed — a plant that is toxic to humans and many other animals. Such is the case for this blue jay puking up the remnants of a monarch it tried to eat.

Lincoln Brower/Sweet Briar College

Mark Chappell, UC Riverside

But a November 22 study in Current Biology reports that some species of animals have evolved to digest milkweed toxins, too, all for the purpose of eating monarchs.

3. Now you see me

This is a glasswing butterfly, known for its transparent wings. It even sports a sort of antiglare coating, so that predators can’t see it glint in the sunlight.

Aaron Pomerantz

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Writing in the Journal of Experimental Biology in May, researchers discovered that the wing scales on these species develop differently than other butterflies, even from the earliest stages of growth.

2. Liftoff

Watching butterflies take off in a wind tunnel helped a team of researchers map out the curved “clapping” motion that these insects use to make themselves airborne.

Christoffer Johansson

1. Eye Spy

Butterflies see color differently than us. One research team mapped out the photoreceptive proteins called ospins in the eye of an atala hairstreak butterfly.

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The team discovered that these butterflies can see long-wavelength reds and oranges that are invisible to humans.

Image copyright 2021, Marjorie A. Lieanard, Lund University.