Now that the season is over and life is calmer, we have time to learn more about the butterflies. We’ll start with the most obvious part – the beautiful wings!
Butterflies have two sets of wings, the forewings which are the upper pair, and the lower or hindwings. You may have been told that if you touch a butterfly’s wings, it will die. No, it won’t. It will lose a few scales but it will most likely be fine. That being said, you shouldn’t touch a butterfly at all if you don’t have to. Butterflies are very fragile and the wings are easy to damage.
The wings are different between the sexes. The male monarchs will have one black spot on each of the hind wings. These are thought to be scent glands, which help them find female mates. The females have thicker veins on their wings, giving them a bit of a darker appearance. While someone may know why the veins are bigger, it isn’t me and I haven’t been able to find the answer. If I do, I’ll let you know.
The wings are covered with thousands of overlapping scales, similar to the scales of a fish. If you look at a closeup photo of a monarch wing, like the one below, the scales almost give it the appearance of fabric. The bright orange and black colors are a warning to predators that this butterfly is not gong to taste good and may make them quite sick if they eat it. Sadly, most predators don’t understand this until they’ve eaten one. After the first experience, they aren’t likely to eat another, so overall, the strategy works.
If a butterfly wing has been damaged or broken, it can be replaced by a wing transplant! The wings don’t have nerve endings, so it doesn’t hurt to cut them, it’s more like cutting a fingernail. I have done this once with a butterfly with two damaged wings. The operation was successful and after a bit of practice, he flew away the next day!