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Butterfly and Moth Update: 150,000 Known Species on Earth, More To Find

Sep 25, 2015 06:37 PM EDT
Orange tiger butterfly
Butterflies and moths are the second-most species-rich group of insects on the planet.
(Photo : Alias 0591)

Butterflies and moths, while definitely affected by habitat destruction and climate change, have a huge range on our planet. There are 150,000 species of Lepidoptera worldwide, making them the second-most species-rich group of insects. So, only beetles have them beat.

About 20,000 of that huge number of species are butterflies, and the rest are moths. Both have been studied by us humans for more than 300 years.

In the world of exploration and learning, there is still more to know about butterflies and moths. For instance, by some estimates Earth might hold 250,000 to 400,000 species of Lepidoptera still to be fully known, especially in the tropical regions, as membership organization The Lepidopterists' Society has noted. That organization was founded in 1947 by two University of Cambridge students.

One of the early students of butterflies and other insects was the artist, scientific illustrator and naturalist Maria Sibylla Merian, who lived from 1647 to 1717 and came from a publishing family in Frankfurt, Germany.

In the small and charming book A Butterfly Journey: Maria Sibylla Merian Artist and Scientist (Prestel 2015), Boris Friedewald tells the story of Merian, who began studying insects as a child after receiving a gift of silk worms. After observing them build cocoons and later emerge as moths, Merian began collecting caterpillars and watching their activities in boxes in her room. At the time, butterflies were traditionally associated with witchcraft, as Friedewald explained: It was thought that witches could change themselves into butterflies and curdle milk. Merian went on to observe and gather information on many other types of insects. The book is also scattered with beautiful full-color reproductions of insect illustrations from the late 1600s and early 1700s.

Some recent Nature World News coverage of butterflies has included:

*A British study predicts that there may be wide-spread loss of butterflies by 2050, and urges conservation changes that include uniting , not dividing habitat.

* Butterfly females pass down wisdom to offspring.

Scientists have mapped the DNA trail of butterflies.

In Winter 2015, 69% more Monarch butterflies reached Mexico's winter grounds than in the previous year.

That said, Monarch butterflies are by no means out of the woods yet. This article talks about the current confusion regarding their status.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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