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Local animals in this group:

brush-footed butterflies

Nymphalidae

What do they look like?

This family of butterflies gets its name from its front legs. They are shorter than the other four legs, and they don't use them to walk or stand. These front legs don't have feet, just little brushes of hairs that the butterflies can use to smell and taste with. Sometimes the front legs are so small you can't see them.

This is a very diverse group of species. Some are brightly colored, some well camouflaged. Most have brown camouflage patterns on the underside of the wings, and brighter colors (often orange) on top, but there are lots of exceptions. Some have rounded wings, some have irregular edges with notches and little curves. Several species in this group are mimics, they look like other species that are toxic, and so avoid predators.

Many of the caterpillars have horns or spines or bumps to discourage predators. Some are dark colored, some are green or yellow, many have stripes or spots.

(See More Information on Butterflies and Moths for a general physical description of butterflies.)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes shaped differently

Where do they live?

This is a large and diverse family of butterflies. Over 4,000 species of Brushfoots are found all around the world. In Michigan we have 37 species.

What kind of habitat do they need?

Species in this family are so variable that it is hard to generalize. Brushfoot butterflies can be found in almost any habitat that has plants.

How do they grow?

Like all Moths and Butterflies, this family has complete metamorphosis. See More Information on Butterflies and Moths for an explanation of this. Pupae do not make cocoons in this family, they are chrysalids. Usually it is the larvae that hibernate in this group, but a few species survive the winter as adults.

How do they reproduce?

After mating, females lay up to several hundred eggs. Some species lay their eggs one at time, others lay clusters together (this relates to the behavior of the caterpillars after they hatch).

  • Breeding season
    Late Spring, Summer, and/or early Fall.

Once they have laid their eggs, there is no parental care in these species.

  • Parental Investment
  • no parental involvement

How long do they live?

In most species of Brushfoots, individuals only live for a year or a little more (not more than two winters). A few cold climate species may survive through two winters as larvae or pupae, but the adults only survive for a few weeks. Some temperate climate adults live the longest of any adult butterflies, surviving for 6 months or more.

How do they behave?

Adults are active only in daylight. Some caterpillars feed at night, others during the day. Some Brushfoot species migrate long distances from southern North America north in the spring.

How do they communicate with each other?

These butterflies communicate mainly with their scent and their colors. Males attract mates with scent and display, and females leave a scent mark on plants where they have laid eggs.

What do they eat?

Caterpillars of different species of brushfoots eat many different kinds of plants. Many specialize on just a few species or one family of plants. Some specialize on thistles or nettles, some on willow trees, some on plants in the daisy family, some on violets.

Adults sometimes sip nectar, but many species in this group seem to prefer tree sap or rotting fruit, and some feed on dung or mud.

What eats them and how do they avoid being eaten?

Caterpillars hide and feed at night, or have spines and horns which may release toxic chemicals. In some species young caterpillars live together in groups, and they all thrash around and give off toxic chemicals if predators attack.

Adults may have camouflage colors on their wings, and can fly away from danger. Some species are toxic, and have warning colors to tell predators to leave them alone, and others mimic these colors but don't have the toxins.

What roles do they have in the ecosystem?

Some of these species are important herbivores, reducing the populations of their food plants.

Do they cause problems?

These harmless butterflies don't directly affect humans much in positive or negative ways. A few species have caterpillars that can cause a rash if you touch them.

  • Ways that these animals might be a problem for humans
  • injures humans
    • bites or stings

Are they endangered?

A few species in this family (but none in Michigan) are considered endangered or threatened, usually due to destruction of their habitat.

  • IUCN Red List [Link]
    Not Evaluated

Glossary

Australian

Living in Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, New Guinea and associated islands.

World Map

Ethiopian

living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

World Map

Nearctic

living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map

Neotropical

living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map

Palearctic

living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

World Map

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends.

bog

a wetland area rich in accumulated plant material and with acidic soils surrounding a body of open water. Bogs have a flora dominated by sedges, heaths, and sphagnum.

chaparral

mid-altitude coastal areas with mild, rainy winters and long, dry summers. Dominant plant types are dense, evergreen shrubs.

desert or dunes

in deserts low (less than 30 cm per year) and unpredictable rainfall results in landscapes dominated by plants and animals adapted to aridity. Vegetation is typically sparse, though spectacular blooms may occur following rain. Deserts can be cold or warm and daily temperates typically fluctuate. In dune areas vegetation is also sparse and conditions are dry. This is because sand does not hold water well so little is available to plants. In dunes near seas and oceans this is compounded by the influence of salt in the air and soil. Salt limits the ability of plants to take up water through their roots.

diurnal
  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.
ectothermic

animals which must use heat acquired from the environment and behavioral adaptations to regulate body temperature

fertilization

union of egg and spermatozoan

forest

forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.

herbivore

An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.

internal fertilization

fertilization takes place within the female's body

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

marsh

marshes are wetland areas often dominated by grasses and reeds.

metamorphosis

A large change in the shape or structure of an animal that happens as the animal grows. In insects, "incomplete metamorphosis" is when young animals are similar to adults and change gradually into the adult form, and "complete metamorphosis" is when there is a profound change between larval and adult forms. Butterflies have complete metamorphosis, grasshoppers have incomplete metamorphosis.

migratory

makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

mountains

This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

nocturnal

active during the night

oriental

found in the oriental region of the world. In other words, India and southeast Asia.

World Map

oviparous

reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

polygynous

having more than one female as a mate at one time

rainforest

rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Climbing plants are also abundant. There is plenty of moisture and rain, but may be somewhat seasonal.

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

sedentary

remains in the same area

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

social

associates with others of its species; forms social groups.

solitary

lives alone

swamp

a wetland area that may be permanently or intermittently covered in water, often dominated by woody vegetation.

taiga

this biome is characterized by large expanses of coniferous forest, there is an extended cold season and heavy snowfall.

temperate

that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

 
University of Michigan Museum of ZoologyNational Science Foundation

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. "Nymphalidae" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 25, 2014 at http://www.biokids.umich.edu/accounts/Nymphalidae/

BioKIDS is sponsored in part by the Interagency Education Research Initiative. It is a partnership of the University of Michigan School of Education, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, and the Detroit Public Schools. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant DRL-0628151.
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