Butterflies in General, Birdwings in Particular
Butterflies had evolved into their present form by the Cretaceous Period (65 to 135 million years ago). Together with moths, they make up the order Lepidoptera, a name derived from the tiny scales that cover their wings and bodies ("lepido," meaning scale, and "ptera," meaning wings). There are more than a quarter of a million described species of Lepidoptera, of which about 18,000 are butterflies.
Active during the day, butterflies are extremely diverse in size and appearance. They live in Arctic tundra, tropical rain forest, and most places in between, and are important to the ecosystem of every continent except Antarctica. Butterfly eggs, caterpillars, and adults are a significant food source for other insects, frogs, mammals, and birds. By chewing and digesting huge quantities of leaves, caterpillars cycle nutrients through the ecosystem. And some butterflies are important plant pollinators.