The world of butterflies
What is the fascination of butterflies? Why study them? What features do they exhibit which are not found in other insects? Do they provide evidence for creation? Let’s enter the captivating world of these beautiful insects and find out.
Butterflies occupy a wide range of habitats. All major regions of the world have a fascinating variety of species, some of which migrate annually or seasonally.
Australasia, with its numerous oceanic islands, is the home of the giants of this group of insects—the birdwings. Females of these huge butterflies have a wingspan up to 28 cm (11 ins)! They can fly well above the tree canopy of tropical forests when looking for a mate.
One group of birdwings possesses a sex-patch on the male forewing, which enhances their brilliant metallic blue, green, orange and black colouration. Asian species include both temperate and tropical kinds. On the island of Taiwan, export of both eggs and adults is a commercial industry. Butterfly farms in the Far East have provided the native peoples with a considerable livelihood. This helps conservation at the same time.
South America is renowned for its variety of ‘mimic’ species: one could easily see on the same shrub five different butterflies with almost identical colouring, but which cannot inter-breed. One of them may be poisonous, so birds which prey on them tend to leave all of them alone.
The superb owl butterflies which feed on banana are found here too. North America, which covers Alaska and the Arctic, provides habitats similar to European and Siberian species. The tiger swallowtails are most impressive, reaching a wingspan of 16 cm (six inches) in South America. They exhibit different forms to such an extent that one would hardly think two individuals were of the same species.
Jungles and deserts
Africa south of the Sahara Desert is home to almost 1500 brilliantly coloured kinds, including the huge swallowtails—some of which are now so rare that only a few specimens have ever been caught. There are areas of tropical jungle where some experts believe new species could be discovered.
Europe stretches right up to the Arctic where several butterflies are able to survive despite a temperature of minus 10 degrees Celsius for the greater part of the year. In the Alps in central Europe, one can find them flying above the snowline. In the British Isles about 68 species can be found, some migrants and some resident. Iceland has no butterflies of its own, although a few may be blown there occasionally.
The adult insect body is divided into three parts: head, thorax and abdomen. The blood system is ‘open’ and is not contained in tubes like those of fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals and ourselves. Oxygen is brought to the muscles and internal organs by tiny air-tubes (tracheae) which open on to the skin of chitin (a tough protein which can be very flexible) at the spiracles (pores which can be opened or closed for respiration). Legs in the adult (imago) always number six (three pairs attached to the thorax), but the intermediate stages (larvae) may have additional prolegs and claspers which disappear when they mature.
Butterflies differ from locusts in that they undergo a drastic change in form and behaviour when they become adult. Young immature locust hoppers always look like their older cousins, but our illustration (Figure 1) highlights the dramatic change from caterpillar (larva) to flying butterfly (imago).
The evolutionist simply has no explanation for this—how could it develop in stages? Some pupae (the reorganising stage between larva and imago) have to release their vertical hold on a branch for a fraction of a second to release the last shrivelled larval skin which has been regularly shed each time the caterpillar grew too large for its stretched epidermis!
If such a species had been unable to make this peculiar movement quickly enough, disaster would have overtaken every pupa and no adults would ever have emerged. Extinction! This drastic change of form (metamorphosis) involves several other unusual features: the body cells of the larva break down and migrate to different positions within the pupal envelope and there develop into entirely new organs, e.g. wings, antennae, and the coiled mouthparts which suck up nectar from open flowers.
No ‘experimental’ butterflies!
Not one species of butterfly could ever be ‘experimental’ in its development. Every stage in its life-history must be complete and totally functional, or the race dies out. The enzymes which dissolve the larval body tissues must only go so far or the entire insect would disappear as insect soup!
The marvel of this delicate yet fully functional design can only point to an Intelligent Designer. This basic conclusion is the condemnation of the evolutionary dogma which insists upon random genetic changes (mutations) which will hopefully improve the owner’s chance of survival or provide it with some better organ. It’s very easy to forget that mutations are sometimes harmful or lethal to organisms. This leaves so-called ‘natural selection’ with a variety of disadvantages to weed out; the very opposite of strengthening a different organism to take over the habitat and put all the rest of its kind in the shade.
Take the unusual little forked organ, the osmaterium, possessed by the swallowtails (the caterpillar in Figure 1. is erecting the osmaterium behind its head). Why do not all species of butterfly have this warning device which pops in and out when danger is sensed by its owner? Many predator birds fly off when confronted by the vigorous movements, seeking food elsewhere. No animal can order its own body to produce a new bit of biological equipment! No, only the swallowtails have been given this special device for protection.
By the same argument, if the possession of an osmaterium were such a superior advantage, then at some early stage in alleged butterfly ‘evolution’, all other butterflies would have been supplanted by swallowtails! But the reverse has happened: there are many more species without this organ, so it is clear that other species can survive from one generation to the next without it!
The life cycle is always divided into four parts: egg, caterpillar, chrysalis and, finally, adult butterfly. An egg in the tropics may hatch within three days, the larva eats greedily for eight days, pupation takes another week and the adult hatches 18 days from egg-laying. In cooler climates, this slows down to an average of two months or a year in species which spend the winter in hibernation. The silver-washed fritillary lays her eggs on tree bark near the food plant. The young larvae hibernate there and descend in the spring to eat violet leaves.
‘Detecting’ the correct food plant is performed by a process completely unknown to scientists today. After eating the egg-shell, the larva increases its weight by up to 1000 times, shedding its skin from four to 40 times. The final ‘skin-shedding’ is distinguished by the production of silk from glands with which it anchors itself for the pupation period. Instinctively, the larva prepares a pad of silk to which to attach itself even before the ‘hook’ develops. Could this be anything other than perfect design programming?
Preparing to fly
During this very active internal re-organization, the sex of the specimen becomes apparent. This controls the pattern and colours of the two kinds of wing-scale: one reflects light like a mirror (helps in camouflage) while the other gives the distinctive wing patterns associated with every species. In the pupa, the wings develop in a ‘collapsed’ condition, waiting for air pressure in the abdomen to force blood into the tiny hollow wing-ribs, so that expansion takes place on hatching. Drying follows immediately, before the insect is capable of flight.
Wing-coupling by means of lobes allows speed to reach 24 km/h (15 mph) in the larger species. Mating before egg-laying often takes place during flight, but we have little idea how the female identifies the vital food plant; is it smell, texture or some chemical ‘taste’? What happens if the adult makes a mistake and lays them on a plant which the future larvae cannot eat? The swallowtails of Australia (Troidini) can change the poisonous aristolochic acid of this plant family and then feed exclusively on them without competition from any other butterfly or moth larvae!
Butterfly migration from North America to Britain is achieved by Danaus plexippus. Some species migrate from North Africa through central Europe to the British Isles, while their progeny return in the autumn without their parents. How do they know which route to take year after year? When they fly over oceans, how do they know that they must keep within the boundary layer of air above the water’s surface for minimum resistance? They know because their Creator has put this amazing ability within them.
In summary, neither layman nor professional biologist can offer any origin for the amazing change from larva to pupa and imago, on the basis of evolutionary theory. The incomplete creature is non-existent! The partially functional body system only dies. There have been no beneficial genetic mutations; all the experiments point to damage and death!
Fortunately, we are left with one happy alternative: it was all pre-planned by God the Creator and brought into being by the Lord Jesus Christ.