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Identifying Butterflies

Getting Started

In naming a butterfly, the first step is to make sure that it really is one. The order Lepidoptera includes the moths as well as the butterflies, and some moths are active by day and are quite colorful. Usually they sit or behave in an obviously different way from butterflies. If in doubt, look at the antennae. On butterflies, the tip of each antenna has a thickened area, or "club:'North American moths lack this feature; their antennae are either thread-like to the tip, feathery, or fringed along the edges. Butterflies have four wings: two on each side, the forewing and the hindwing. The upperside and underside of each wing usually has a different pattern. To describe a color pattern on a butterfly, therefore, we have to say where it is-for example, on the upperside of the forewing. Lepidopterists can describe butterfly patterns in great detail using a system of numbering the wing veins and the spaces between them. Some understanding of these terms are necessary for communicating about the intricate patterns of some species.


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