Butterflies come in all different sizes, habitats, colours and species. One interesting butterfly is the Blue Morpho (M. menelaus). There is much about this in species that kids would enjoy learning, so put together a few fascinating facts to educate kids about this beautiful and unique butterfly.
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In the butterfly world, the Blue Morpho is a giant. It is one of the largest species in the world, with an impressive wingspan of 12.5 to 20 cm (5 to 8 inches). In comparison, the world's smallest butterfly, the Western pygmy Blue, has a wingspan of half an inch; the world's largest butterfly, the Queen Alexandra's Birdwing, has a wingspan of 25 to 30 cm (10 to 12 inches). So the Blue Morpho is clearly on the larger end of the scale.
Blue Morphos are found in tropical forests in Central and South America. Their range includes America, Venezuela, Brazil, Costa Rica, Mexico and Colombia. They prefer the climate of the rainforest, but sometimes they linger in a sunny clearing to warm themselves. In the past, the people who lived along the Rio Negro River in Brazil would lure Blue Morphos with bright blue decoys, then use their beautiful wings to decorate elaborate ceremonial masks used in important rituals.
Despite the name, the Blue Morpho is not really blue. The butterfly is known for being a brilliant, metallic blue, but the colour does not come not from the pigmentation in the wings. It's the result of light reflecting off microscopic scales that cover the wings. And it is this reflective property that makes the vivid blue appear iridescent and shimmering. The female is much less colourful than the male.
The life of the Blue Morpho begins when it hatches from a pale green egg. It grows from a larva to a hairy, rust-brown caterpillar with bright yellow or green or patches on its back. The Blue Morpho has some unique defence techniques. The caterpillar's hairs are irritating to human skin and to birds that try to eat it. When disturbed, it produces a fluid with a smell like rancid butter. The caterpillar becomes a chrysalis which, if touched, lets off an ultrasonic noise to ward off predators. Blue Morpho butterflies live an average of 115 days.
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