PacSci Perspectives

Fresh Sheet – December 24, 2016

by | Dec 24, 2016

N agulara

Nessaea aglaura (Aglaura Olivewing)

Butterfly Legs

Everyone knows that insects have six legs but it is not uncommon to observe some butterflies with apparently only four legs. What’s going on here?

Most of the butterflies we feature in our Tropical Butterfly House belong to a large and diverse group called the brushfeet, family Nymphalidae. They have four walking legs and two small tufted front legs that are held tight against the body. Scientists are not 100% certain why they evolved to lose the use of their front legs. The leading theory is that they are using them for smelling instead of walking. Their legs are tufted and are thought to have special chemical receptors on them for ‘smelling’ plants to see if certain foliage is good for laying eggs on. Of course, butterflies won’t find acceptable host plants in our Tropical Butterfly House.

The morphos, monarchs, longwings, and owl butterflies are all brushfoot butterflies. However, swallowtail butterflies have six visible legs. While this feature makes swallowtails normal insects, it makes them a bit unusual as butterflies.

Next time you visit our butterfly exhibit, see if you can observe a brushfoot butterfly using its front legs. Is it tasting something?

Suministros Entimológicos Costarricenses, SA
CRES Costa Rica

12 – Archeoprepona demophon (One-spotted Prepona)
8 – Caligo eurilochus (Forest Giant Owl
20 – Caligo memnon (Owl Butterfly)
37 – Catonephele numilia (Halloween Butterfly)
37 – Dryadula phaetusa (Banded Orange Heliconian)
29 – Greta oto (Glasswing)
11 – Heliconius cydno (Cydno Longwing)
39 – Heliconius doris (Doris Longwing)
12 – Heliconius erato (Small Postman)
34 – Heliconius hecale (Tiger Longwing)
8 – Heliconius hewitsoni (Hewitson’s Longwing)
38 – Heliconius ismenius (Ismenius Longwing)
22 – Heliconius melpomene (Postman)
23 – Heraclides anchisiades (Ruby-spotted Swallowtail)
38 – Morpho peleides (Blue Morpho)
24 – Myscelia cyaniris (Blue Wave Butterfly)
9 – Nessaea aglaura (Aglaura Olivewing)
8 – Opsiphanes quiteria (Scalloped Owl)
12 – Papilio thoas (Thoas Swallowtail)
28 – Parides arcas (Arcas Cattleheart)
7 – Parides iphidamas (Transandean Cattleheart)
46 – Siproeta stelenes (Malachite)

Total = 502

“Fresh Sheet” is our weekly shipment report of pupae on display in the emerging window. Visit Pacific Science Center’s Tropical Butterfly House and meet our newest residents.

These butterflies typically arrive as pupae on the Thursday or Friday before the Fresh Sheet is published. Some of these butterflies will start emerging the day they arrive or the next day, but other species may take a full week before they reach adulthood. After emerging, they may live for a week or even a few months! While we love sharing a variety of species with our guests, we cannot guarantee that any specific species will be flying on the day that you visit Pacific Science Center.

If you are interested in photographing a specific butterfly and would like to be updated about when it is flying in the Tropical Butterfly House, please email with details and your contact information.

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