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Butterfly world

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Indian red admiral Indian red admiral (Pics by Nayana Wijethilaka)

Butterflies…Those trembling beauties, which are coquetting with flowers in our gardens for hours,are not strangers to any of us. Butterflies are brightly colored flying insects with two pairs of large wings that vary in patterns and colors from one another. Butterfly wings are made of very thin layers of a hardened protein called chitin and are covered with overlapping rows of tiny scales. The closest relatives of the butterflies are the moths. There are several differences between moths and butterflies. But the easiest way to distinguish butterflies from moths is the way they fold wings. Butterflies tend to fold their wings vertically up over their backs; Whereas Moths tend to hold their wings in a tent-like manner that hides the abdomen.

Feed, feet and taste
Do you know anyone who can taste with their feet? Probably no one does. But, Butterflies do. This is the way butterflies sense what plants to lay their eggs on. They have taste sensors on their feet, and by standing on a leaf, they can taste it to see if their caterpillars can eat it. Adult butterflies don’t have appendages to bite or chew. Instead, they have a suction tube which plays the role of a mouth. They mainly feed on liquids like nectar, sap, juices from fruits, and sometimes even fluids from dung and carcasses. They have a long, tube like appendage called a proboscis, which works like a straw to suck up liquid. When they’re not using it, it rests coiled up.

Metamorphosis
The most amazing thing about butterflies is their metamorphosis, the process which they change from crawling caterpillars into winged beauties. From egg to adult, butterflies undergo a series of physical transformations. After mating, the female butterfly lays her eggs on a “host” plant, which provides the suitable diet for the type of caterpillar which comes out. When the egg hatches, a small caterpillar emerges and first meal is its own eggshell. It often has nice pattern of stripes or patches, and sometimes covered with spine-like hairs. Then it starts to eat the plant. Caterpillars are born feeding machines. The job of the caterpillar is to eat and eat and eat. This is the stage when most of the growing happens. The caterpillar sheds its skin 4-5 times during this stage. It then get covered with a hard casing forms around it, called a chrysalis, a cocoon which made out of silky threads.Days, months or sometimes even years later, depending on the type, a well-developed winged butterfly emerges from the chrysalis and it will wait for few hours until its wings get filled with blood and dry, before it starts to fly for the first time.

Saving the pollinators
Other than making the world a little embellish and cherished, butterflies play an important role as pollinators. They help to move pollen from one flower to another. As they fly from one to another while sipping nectar, pollen grains stick on their feet. When those grains get deposited on another same type of flower, it gets fertiled and makes fruits.The greatest threats to butterflies are habitat destruction due to residential and agricultural development. As Butterflies have specialized feeding plants and host plants, which suit their type, they can’t survive under everyplant. Both common and rare Sri Lankan butterflies are fond of Pupula, Waraniya, Balunaguta, Wada, Dehi , Bowitiya, Edaru,Mussenda, Jatropha, Eraminiya, Rasakinda, Guava, Ixora, Crotalaria, and  Pea family plants as they are been their feeding plants and host plants. So you can plant some of those in your garden, and catch some luck by letting those beauties land on yours!

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Plumbious silverline

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‘Birdwing’ The largest and National Butterfly of Sri Lanka , laying eggs on a leaf of  ‘Sapsanda’

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Catepillar of the ‘Orange-tailed awl’

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Painted sawtooth

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’Beauty of bitterness’, a closer look the Catepillar of  ‘Pshyche’  

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Mating pair of  ‘white four ring’  Butterflies (Pic by - Santhushya Hewapathiranage)

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life cycle of a butterfly (source: www.pinterest.com)

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