What Are the Structural Adaptations of a Butterfly?

By Alasdair Stuart
Monach butterflies are poisonous and will severely injure any predator that tries to eat them.

"Adaptation" is a term used to describe the features an animal develops to ensure its survival. They are split into two types: "behavioral" focusing on actions, and "structural" focusing on the bodily changes. Butterflies are a particularly strong example of this second type, with their adaptations taking in everything from how they camouflage themselves to their ability to fly.



Camouflage

Butterflies' primary structural adaptation is in their wings and how they use them to conceal themselves. The wings of many species have evolved to mimic their surroundings, with the green hairstreak a particularly good example. These butterflies have wings that are colored and shaped to look exactly like the leaves the butterfly is found on, meaning that it is far harder for predators to locate.

Disguise and Subterfuge

Many butterflies have evolved "eye spots" on their wings. When their wings flash open, these spots give the butterfly the appearance of a much larger creature, frightening off potential predators. Similarly, the viceroy butterfly deliberately mimics the appearance of the monarch butterfly, which has evolved to be toxic to eat. As a result, predators are discouraged from preying on both species.

Basking

Butterflies are cold-blooded creatures, meaning they need to warm their wings up before taking off. This is where they are at their most vulnerable to predators, but it's a vital part of the butterfly's progress. The butterfly can simply fold up its wings if it gets too hot.

Light Sense

Every fourth generation of monarch butterflies migrates 2,000 miles, traveling from as far north as Canada to overwintering spots in Mexico. Scientists such as Carol L. Boggs et al. describe how the monarchs use their antennae to detect the basic level of light around them. This allows them to tell the time of day depending on how much light they can see, and this in turn allows them to stay on target.

About the Author

Alasdair Stuart has been a freelance writer since 2005. He has been published in "Sci Fi Now," "Death Ray," "Neo" and "The Guardian." He also hosts "Pseudopod," an award-winning horror podcast. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and history and a master's degree in contemporary English literature from Leeds University.