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Author: Simon van Noort
The First field guide series of natural history guides has been developed in the hope that young people and anyone with a budding interest in natural history will take up the challenge to learn the secrets of southern Africas fascinating fauna and flora.
These little guides are an invaluable resource for the beginner, providing information at a glance through superb photographs, maps and easy-to-read text.
• handy pocket size
Simon van Noort is an entomologist with the South African Museum, Cape Town.
Butterflies and moths are among the best known and most visible insects.
They are one of 32 different orders of insects and belong to a group known as Lepidoptera, which is the second largest insect order, after the beetles, with approximately 170 000 known species worldwide.
Ninety per cent of this total are moths. The term Lepidoptera means scaly wings and refers to the thousands of tiny overlapping scales that cover the wings and bodies of these creatures. The scales provide the colour and patterns of the wings, and are easily rubbed off, leaving a transparent membrane with a network of veins.
Butterflies and moths have a wide range of colours, forms and sizes. Size ranges from moths with a wingspan of a couple of millimetres to giants with a wingspan of 30 centimetres. Southern Africa is home to the Dwarf Blue, one of the smallest butterflies in the world, and the smallest in Africa. Our largest butterfly, the Emperor Swallowtail, has a wingspan of up to 12,5 cm; some of our Emperor Moths have wingspans as wide as 18 cm.
Many adult butterflies and moths are important pollinators of a wide variety of plants. Butterflies visit flowers to feed on nectar, which they suck up with a modified mouthpart - their long hollow tongue (proboscis). When not feeding, this tongue is coiled up beneath the head. During feeding, pollen sticks to the butterfly’s body and is carried from one flower to another, resulting in cross-pollination of the flowers.
Butterflies and moths consume most of their food during the caterpillar stage. Nectar is, however, needed by the adults to provide energy for flight (although a number of moths do not feed at all in the adult stage and as a result are shortlived).
Caterpillars are eating machines and consume vast quantities of plant material. They play an important part in food chains by converting leaves into protein (themselves). Caterpillars are then eaten by many other life forms, including insects, spiders, birds and lizards.
Acraea Butterflies 16