The Parts of a Butterfly

Butterflies and moths have similar anatomical features

Whether large (like a monarch butterfly) or small (like a spring azure), butterflies and moths share certain morphological features. The diagram highlights the basic common anatomy of an adult butterfly or moth. The sections, divided according to butterfly or moth parts, provide more specific descriptions of the various appendages of these beautiful insects. The parts of the butterfly or moth are indicated by numbers, which correspond to the sections.

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Parts of a butterfly.
Parts of a butterfly. Photo: Flickr user B_cool (CC license); modified by Debbie Hadley, WILD Jersey

The forewings are the anterior wings, which are attached to the mesothorax (the middle segment of the thorax—see section No. 2). Interestingly, scent scales—modified wing scales on the forewing of male butterflies and moths—release pheromones, chemicals that attract females of the same species, notes Enchanted Learning, adding that scent scales are also called androconia.

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The posterior wings, attached to the metathorax (the last segment of the thorax), are called the hindwings. Hindwings are actually unnecessary for flight but essential for the execution of normal evasive flight in butterflies and moths, according to a 2008 paper by Benjamin Jantzen and Thomas Eisner, published in PNAS (The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences). Indeed, moths and butterflies can still fly, even if their hindwings are cut off, they say.


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The antennae are a pair of sensory appendages, used primarily for chemoreception, the process by which organisms respond to chemical stimuli in their environments that depends primarily on the senses of taste and smell. As with most other arthropods, butterflies and moths use their antennae to detect odors and tastes, windspeed and direction, heat and moisture, and even touch. The antennae also help with balance and orientation.

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The head is the first section of the butterfly or moth body. The butterfly or moth's almost spherical head is the location of its feeding and sensory structures, says Enchanted Learning, adding that the head also contains its brain, two compound eyes, the proboscis, the pharynx (the start of the digestive system), and the point of attachment of its two antennae. More »

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The second section of the butterfly or moth body, the thorax consists of three segments, fused together. Each segment has a pair of legs. Both pairs of wings also attach to the thorax.

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The third section of the butterfly or moth body is the abdomen, which consists of 10 segments. The final three to four segments are modified to form the external genitalia.

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Compound Eye

The butterfly and moth's large eye, also called a compound eye, senses light and images. The compound eye is a collection of thousands of ommatidia, each of which acts as a single lens of the eye. 

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The butterfly or moth's collection of mouthparts, the proboscis, is modified for drinking, curls up when not in use, and extends like a drinking straw when it feeds.

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The first pair of legs, attached to the prothorax, are called the forelegs. In brush-footed butterflies, the forelegs are modified and not used for walking.

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The middle pair of legs, attached to the mesothorax, are the midlegs.

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Hind Leg

The last pair of legs, attached to the metathorax, are the hindlegs.

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Your Citation
Hadley, Debbie. "The Parts of a Butterfly." ThoughtCo, May. 20, 2018, Hadley, Debbie. (2018, May 20). The Parts of a Butterfly. Retrieved from Hadley, Debbie. "The Parts of a Butterfly." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 27, 2018).