Nature's Exclamation Points

By Brett Dufur | photos by Donna Brunet | June 1, 2011
From Xplor: June/July 2011

Some butterflies, with their dazzling colors and intricate patterns, seem to exclaim, “Summer is here!” Others lie hidden, perfectly camouflaged on leaves and bark, and reward only careful observers. But butterflies don’t just win cool points for color. They are downright incredible. Read on to discover how butterflies are perfectly equipped for a life full of adventure.

Tongues on Their Toes

Butterflies can taste with their feet. Aren’t you glad you can’t taste your 2-day-old tube socks? Whew! When you think about it, it makes perfect sense for butterflies to have tasting “tongues” on their toes. When they land on flowers or plants, they instantly know if they’re good sources of nectar or host plants for their eggs. Having tongues on their toes is more than just tonguetalizing trivia, it helps mother butterflies make sure their babies start out with a full-meal deal.

Long-Distance Fliers

Weighing in at less than a postage stamp, some butterflies migrate to places a postcard wouldn’t be able to go. The monarch is the butterfly migration champion. These orange-and-black insects fly thousands of miles, all the way from Missouri to central Mexico and back over the course of several generations. Learn how to help scientists track their migration at

The Ultimate Crazy Straw

Butterflies use a feeding tube, or proboscis, to slurp up nectar from delicate flowers. They curl the proboscis up when they are on the go. Adult butterflies feed primarily on flower nectar. A few feed on tree sap, decaying fruit, animal carcasses and scat. Many butterflies suck moisture from wet places like mud puddles. Butterflies can even add a few drops of water from their own bodies to dissolve food so it’s easier to suck up.

Scales Like an Alligator

The wings of butterflies are mostly transparent. It is the tiny shimmering scales, which overlap like shingles on a roof, that give their wings many of the colors we see. The scales refract, or bend the light, similar to how a rainbow gets its color.

Nature’s Change Artists

Butterflies start out as eggs, then tur n into caterpillars. These eating machines chow down for a few weeks to a few months, then hang out in a chrysalis and prepare for their great unveiling. When the metamor phosis is complete, gone is the plump cater pil lar. In its place is an extraordinary adult butterfly ready to find a mate.

Orange Means Trouble

Monarchs’ bright orange wings announce to predators, “Don’t eat me!” These orange beauties taste bad because as caterpillars they ate milkweed, a plant that contains toxic chemicals. Other butterflies, such as the viceroy, also are bright orange and taste bad to predators. By sharing these similar traits, both butterflies are more likely to survive.

Patterns Like Picasso

Butterflies are fun to draw because you get to use the brightest crayons in the box. Vibrant reds, yellows, blues and greens will inspire the artist in you. Some butterflies seem to carry an entire rainbow on their wings! Other butterflies reward your eagle eyes. See if you can find the question mark on the butterfly to the left.

Plant It and They Will Come

Sometimes attracting butterflies is as easy as slicing open a piece of fruit and leaving it on a plate outside. Learn which plants attract your favorite butterflies to help reel them in. Remember: Caterpillars need host plants to sustain them. Butterflies survive on nectar. Planting both nearby will keep you aflutter in butterflies all summer long. Visit for ideas on how to attract them.

Snake Snack

Snoozing caterpillar or snake? Butterflies can be masters of deception. The caterpillar of the eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly has unusual markings that look like the eyes of a snake. Imagine a bird’s surprise finding a “snake” inside a coiled-up leaf!

And More...

This Issue's Staff

David Besenger
Bonnie Chasteen
Chris Cloyd
Peg Craft
Brett Dufur
Les Fortenberry
Chris Haefke
Karen Hudson
Regina Knauer
Kevin Lanahan
Kevin Muenks
Noppadol Paothong
Marci Porter
Mark Raithel
Laura Scheuler
Matt Seek
Tim Smith
David Stonner
Nichole LeClair Terrill
Stephanie Thurber
Cliff White
Kipp Woods