Lepidoptera belong to the order Lepidoptera , and refers to any of the approximately 180,000 species of butterflies , moths and jumpers that exist around the world. This order of insects is the second in size and due to their daytime flight habits and bright colors , butterflies are more familiar than moths which are mainly nocturnal and dull in color, although the latter are much more varied and abundant. . With the exception of a few types of moths, adult Lepidopterans have two pairs of wings . NameLepidoptera derives from the Greek, meaning ” scaly wings ,” and refers to the characteristic coating of microscopic dust- like scales on the wings of insects.


What is the lepidopteran order?

They are an important group of insects that groups insects such as butterflies and moths which can be nocturnal or diurnal and also have the ability to become pests .

  • Characteristics of the order Lepidoptera
  • Evolution
  • Types
  • Habitat
  • Feeding
  • Reproduction
  • Breathing
  • Importance of the order Lepidoptera
  • Examples
  • Why are they called Lepidoptera

Characteristics of the order Lepidoptera

The main characteristics that we can observe in the Lepidoptera order are the following:

  • They are considered the most colorful insects that exist on the planet due to their shape and colors .
  • They can be nocturnal or diurnal , the latter being the most striking.
  • Their size is quite variable and they have an exoskeleton .
  • They have three pairs of legs and two pairs of wings .
  • Compound eyes and ocelli , a pair of antennae and complex mouthparts , can be found on its head that give shape to a tube that can be rolled up, known as a spirit tube .
  • Its wings are quite membranous , wide and full of scales called imbricates.
  • They go through a complete process of metamorphosis .
  • When they are in the larva stage, they feed mainly on vegetables .
  • Adults feed on nectar and other liquids .


There is not much data on its evolution, there are very few fossils that have been found of this genre to be able to determine its correct evolution. Those that have been found indicate that they arose in the period called Paleogene and that from that moment they made great migrations towards the North Sea .


Lepidoptera were divided into two large groups, such as diurnal or nocturnal butterflies , however, this classification was not well accepted by entomologists . The currently proposed classification of Lepidoptera is based more on their taxonomic characters , and the following is proposed:

  • Suborder Zeugloptera
  • Suborder Aglossata
  • Suborder Heterobarhmiina
  • Suborder Glossata (most species are found in this group).


Lepidopterans inhabit practically every continent except Antarctica . Although they are much more numerous and diversified in the tropics , some species survive on the fringes of polar vegetation . There are many species that survive successfully in almost all environments, from arid deserts and high mountain tops to swamps and rainforests . Most have adapted for life in relatively restricted ecological nichesand they can be limited to just one or a small group of food plants, often just a part of a plant. Therefore, they are rarely abundant in more than one type of habitat. However, some species have more extensive feeding habits and can occasionally reach peaks of abnormal abundance and defoliate large areas of deciduous forest or grassland . Some of the insects most damaging to human interests in agriculture and forestry are members of the Lepidoptera.

Some families are characteristically more abundant in one wildlife region than others. America Central and the South are characterized by a great diversity of moths false tiger (family Notodonidae) and ctenuchid moths (Arctiidae Family). The North American (Nearctic) and Eurasian (Palaearctic) families show much evidence of close connections, primarily between Asia and western North America. Each region has, however, many distinctive genres .


The feeding habits of Lepidoptera is very diverse and depends on the adaptations of the species or the climate , the environment , the type of food plant , the way of feeding and many other factors . Many larvae eat flowers and many adults consume nectar . They also eat fruits and their seeds . Some may even consume different types of seeds , such as the meal moth which has become a household pest., which feed on stored grains and cereals. Several groups lepidopteran feed terminal buds conifer of the lawn of grasses and sedges , of woody stems and grafts . Carpenter moths, in particular, tunnel deep into hardwoods . A number of lepidopteran feed material dead plant and decomposition , particularly traces of mold.


The sequence of mating activities is usually initiated by the female , who emits specific odorous substances or pheromones that attract males, sometimes even before they emerge from the pupa. These are detected by structures in antennas of the male . Males with very large, feathery antennae can locate females at a distance of 5 to 6 km and can form swarms around them. Once the male has located the female butterfly, a more or less elaborate courtship can ensue . The sight of characteristic colors and patterns can be arequirement for this among the brightly colored butterflies. The male pheromones can also play an essential role . Distributed from special scent scales on the wings, the pheromones ensure the receptivity of the female . Finally, the accessory genital structures must fit together, not only mechanically but also in such a way as to stimulate the sensory nervous organs of the female .

The growth process of this class of insects is done through complete metamorphosis , in other words, the insects go through the egg , larva , pupal , adult insect or imago stages . They are born as a larva which are known by the name of caterpillars , then they develop to transform into chrysalis , where they undergo their metamorphosis , a process in which, breaking the external skeleton of the chrysalis, they transform into butterflies .


Lepidopterans breathe through a system of internal tubes known as tracheids that open on both sides of the thorax . Their breathing is quite light , this in order to be able to maintain proper balance and greater precision when flying. Some of them, like the monarch butterfly, have a group of branching spiracles in small tubes through which oxygen is conducted .

Importance of the order Lepidoptera

Many Lepidoptera damage the plants useful to humans, including some of the most important sources of food , tissues , fodder and wood . The vast majority of harmful species are moths, and the harmful life stage is always the larvae . However, unlike members of other insect orders, Lepidoptera do not act as carriers of plant diseases, are not parasites, nor are they harmful to humans. However, some species feed on open wounds or bodily secretions from wild or domestic animals .

few Lepidoptera are directly beneficial to humans. Almost all silk is obtained from the domesticated silkworm (Bombyx mori), which is native to China . Other silks such as shantung and tussah are the product of several giant Asian silkworm moths (family Saturniidae). The larvae and sometimes the adults of some species are used for food . The larvae of a skipper (Rhopalocampta libeon or Caeliades libeon) are collected in large numbers in the Congo , and the 10 cm caterpillars of giant skippers (family Megathymidae), known in Mexico asmaguey worms are consumed in the country and exported for consumption as hors d’oeuvres.

Many Lepidoptera are valuable in biological research , including work in ecology , biogeography , systematics , genetics, and physiology . Much of the current knowledge of the endocrine controls of insect development comes from studies on the silkworm moth and its relatives. The study of the British moth has profoundly influenced ideas about rates of evolutionary change . An increase in the proportion of dark moths, a change believed to have been produced by soot in the air produced during the Industrial Revolution , has been calledindustrial melanism .


Some examples of the class Lepidoptera are the following:

  • Monarch butterfly
  • Silk worm
  • Nopal Moth
  • Blue morpho
  • Butterfly bird wings
  • Tiger butterfly

Why are they called Lepidoptera

Its name refers to the scaly wings and for this reason they are so called because lepidopterans have wings that are covered with overlapping scales .

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