order of insects that includes butterflies and moths

The order Lepidoptera is the second biggest order of insects. It includes the moths and butterflies including the skippers. There is no common word for the group: ordinary people talk of "butterflies and moths".

Butterflies and moths
The clipper, Parthenos sylvia
(Papilionoidea: Nymphalidae: Limenitidinae)
Scientific classification


The order has more than 180,000 species in 128 families and 47 superfamilies.[1] They are 10% of all the described species of living organisms.[2][3] The Coleoptera (the beetles) is the only order that has more species.

The name, Lepidoptera, comes from the Ancient Greek words λεπίδος (scale) and πτερόν (wing).

The earliest discovered fossils date to 200 mya or earlier.[4][5] This early origin was long before flowering plants evolved. Earlier butterflies must have been adapted to a habitat of cycads and conifers, something which had not previously been suspected.[5]

Characteristics of Lepidoptera change

Lepidopterans go through complete metamorphosis. This means that they have a four parts to their lives. The first part is the egg. The second part is the caterpillar or larva. The third part is the pupa. The last part is the adult or imago.

Larva change

The larvae have a tough head and a soft body. They have mouths that are made to chew. Some larvae are covered with hairs, or other body extensions. The larvae have three pairs of small legs on the thorax. These legs are called true legs. There are up to five pairs of bigger legs on the abdomen. These legs are called prolegs. Lepidopteran larvae can be confused with the larvae of sawflies. The difference between Lepidopteran larvae and sawfly larvae is that Lepidopteran larvae have tiny hooks on their prolegs. These hooks are called crochets. Most larvae are herbivores, but a few are carnivores and detritivores.[6]

Adult change

Adults have two pairs of wings. They are covered by small scales. In some species, the adults have very small wings or no wings at all. This is more common in females. Adults have antennae. Some moths have antennae that look like feathers. These feather-like antennae are larger in males than females. Adults have a mouthpart called a proboscis. It sucks nectar from flowers. Some adults do not have mouths and cannot feed. Others have different mouths that are made to pierce and suck blood or fruit juices.[7]

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  1. "The Lepidoptera Taxome Project draft proposals and information". Centre for Ecology and Evolution, University College London. Retrieved 2007-03-05.
  2. Mallet, Jim (12 June 2007). "Taxonomy of Lepidoptera: the scale of the problem". The Lepidoptera Taxome Project. University College, London. Retrieved 8 February 2011.
  3. "Lepidoptera Taxome Project". Lepidoptera Taxome Project. Retrieved 2015-02-25.
  4. Briggs, Helen. Meet the butterflies from 200 million years ago. BBC Science & Environment. [1]
  5. 5.0 5.1 Van Eldijk etc 2018. A Triassic–Jurassic window into the evolution of Lepidoptera. Science Advances 4, #1. [2]
  6. Dugdale, JS, 1996. Natural history and identification of litter-feeding Lepidoptera larvae (Insecta) in beech forests, Orongorongo Valley, New Zealand, with especial reference to the diet of mice (Mus musculus). Journal of The Royal Society of New Zealand, Volume 26, Number 2, pp 251-274
  7. Scoble M.J. 1992. The Lepidoptera: form, function and diversity. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-1-4020-6242-1

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