Butterflies and moths

Fluttering beauties

Author: Markus Bräu
Author: Markus Bräu

Colourful sun worshippers

In Germany, approximately 3,700 butterfly and moth species occur. Moths are generally regarded as night-flyers, although there are also diurnal moths, such as the brightly colored burnets.

Almost all adult butterflies and moths feed on nectar, plant juices or other nutrient-rich liquids that they suck up with their proboscis. This is rolled up under the insect's head when not in use. The caterpillars, however, have still mouthparts with which they can chew.

The caterpillar, the larval stage of butterflies and moths, has to absorb the nutrients required by the insect for its transformation into an adult. Therefore, each caterpillar is a small "eating machine" that grows fast and large. Because their skin does not grow with them, they have to moult it several times. Some species are considered pests because of their voracity, such as the clothes moths and the Cabbage White butterfly.

Many butterflies and moths impress with their beautifully coloured wings, which reach an impressive span in some tropical species. In our climes, the Swallowtail Butterfly does manage a wingspan of up to 9 cm, making it one of our largest and most beautiful species. Sadly, it is endangered, because it requires open, sunny landscapes with nutrient-poor, extensively cultivated grassland. Its caterpillar develops on various umbelliferous plants, such as the Wild Carrot or the Pepper Saxifrage.

Many of our butterfly species are now under threat because they place very specific demands on their habitat. Particularly specialized and very interesting is the Dusky Large Blue. It lays its eggs in the flowers of the Great Burnet, on which the newly-hatched caterpillars feed. Then, in late summer, they drop to the ground and tray to entice their host ant, the Red Stinging Ant. With luck one of these ants finds the caterpillar and carries it into the ant nest. The caterpillar exudes sugary secretions to ensure that the ants feed and take care of it, even though it is eating the ant grubs. After hatching from its pupa, the butterfly has to escape from the ant nest quickly, so as not to fall prey to the ants after all.