What is the science about butterflies?

What is the science about butterflies?


Prodryas persephone, a Late Eocene butterfly from the Florissant Fossil Beds, 1887 engraving
Prodryas persephone, a Late Eocene butterfly from the Florissant Fossil Beds, 1887 engraving

The scientific study of butterflies, or lepidopterology, has a rich history spanning several centuries. Here are some notable milestones:

Ancient Greek and Roman times: The Greek philosopher Aristotle was one of the first to document the life cycle of butterflies, including their metamorphosis from caterpillar to adult. The Roman poet Ovid also wrote about butterflies in his Metamorphoses.

Butterfly antennal shapes, mainly clubbed, unlike those of moths. Drawn by C. T. Bingham, 1905

16th century: European explorers began to discover and document new species of butterflies in the Americas and other parts of the world. One of the earliest recorded butterfly collections was made by the Spanish explorer Hernando Cortes in Mexico.

Der Schmetterlingsjäger (The butterfly hunter) painting by Carl Spitzweg, 1840

17th century: The Dutch scientist Jan Swammerdam was the first to describe the anatomy of butterflies in detail, using microscopes to examine their structures. He also observed the development of butterfly wings.

 robe Japan 1700s. Silk embroidered with silk thread and stenciled with gold foil

18th century: The Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus developed a system for naming and classifying organisms, including butterflies. He also wrote a book called Systema Naturae, which included descriptions of many butterfly species.

Lithopsyche antiqua, an Early Oligocene butterfly from the Bembridge Marls, Isle of Wight, 1889 engraving
Lithopsyche antiqua, an Early Oligocene butterfly from the Bembridge Marls, Isle of Wight, 1889 engraving

19th century: Advances in microscopy and other technologies allowed scientists to study butterfly anatomy and behavior in even greater detail. Charles Darwin, the father of evolutionary theory, was also a butterfly enthusiast and used butterfly specimens in his research.

20th century: The study of butterflies continued to evolve, with scientists using genetics, molecular biology, and other cutting-edge techniques to learn more about their biology and evolution. Today, lepidopterology is a vibrant field of study with many active researchers and enthusiasts around the world.

AD2009Aug01 Vanessa atalanta 01.jpg
An adult specimen of Vanessa atalanta – commonly known as the Red Admiral. Its wingspan is about 60 mm and it must have survived a predator’s attack, since the left wing was seriously damaged.

What is the science about butterflies?