Photograph of tan butterfly perched on a yellow flower. Taken at Largo Central Park, Largo, Florida on June 30, 2014.
Butterflies (superfamily Papilionoidea), the skippers (superfamily Hesperioidea) and the moth-butterflies (superfamily Hedyloidea). Other families within Lepidoptera are referred to as moths. Butterfly fossils date to the mid Eocene epoch, 40–50 million years ago.
Butterflies exhibit polymorphism, mimicry and aposematism. Some, like the Monarch, will migrate over long distances. Some butterflies have parasitic relationships with organisms including protozoans, flies, ants, other invertebrates, and vertebrates. Some species are pests because in their larval stages they can damage domestic crops or trees; however, some species are agents of pollination of some plants, and caterpillars of a few butterflies (e.g., Harvesters) eat harmful insects. Culturally, butterflies are a popular motif in the visual and literary arts.
The Oxford English Dictionary derives the word from a combination of butter (“The fatty substance obtained from cream by churning”) and fly (“Any winged insect”). It adds: “The reason of the name is unknown”, and refers to Hensleigh Wedgwood, who “points out a Dutch synonym boterschijte in Kilian, which suggests that the insect was so called from the appearance of its excrement”.
Donald Ringe writes that the name is derived from Middle English buterflie, butturflye, boterflye, from Old English butorflēoge, buttorflēoge, buterflēoge, perhaps a compound of butor (beater), mutation of bēatan (to beat), and flēoge (fly).