Are Butterflies Bug Or Animals? The Classic Debate

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Butterflies are some of the most beautiful creatures to exist. Their queer features make curious minds wonder what kind of creature they are in reality. 

We often get confused between the words ‘bugs’ and ‘animals’ and if they mean the same thing or not. This confusion leads us to ponder the question; Are butterflies bug or animals

If you’re interested in finding the mystery behind butterflies, keep reading to find out what category butterflies belong to.

What Is A Bug?

The word ‘bug’ is loosely used to define any crawling creature. Biologically, a bug is a living creature belonging to the class Insecta and order Hemiptera. It means bugs are included among insects, but all insects cannot be called true bugs. 

Usually, insects are creatures that have a body divided into three parts- the head, thorax, and abdomen. They also bear jointed legs, a pair of antennae, along with compound eyes. These features separate them from other living creatures. However, all insects do not qualify to be true bugs.

True bugs are denoted by the type of mouth parts they bear. Usually, a true bug has mouth parts that are required for piercing and sucking actions. To quality as a bug, an insect has to possess mouth parts that can pierce through plant tissues. That is why only the order Hemiptera is fit to be called a true bug. 

What Is An Animal?

Unlike bugs, animals refer to something different. According to most biologists, an animal is termed as a living organism that has specific sense organs, a well-developed nervous system, and one that feeds on biotic components. Let’s break it down.

Most living creatures fall under the category of animals. We can fit a living creature under ‘animals’ if it eats organic matter to survive, which includes plants and other critters. An animal also needs to have sensory organs that can perform functions like vision, hearing, smell, taste, etc. 

You can also refer to an animal as an organism that has a functioning nervous system, i.e., accepting and responding to stimuli. 

Based on these characteristics, you could say that all bugs and insects can be included within animals. But all animals are not bugs or insects.

Are Butterflies Bugs?

Now that we’ve got a little background on bugs and animals, let’s talk about whether butterflies qualify to be bugs.

To be more specific, butterflies can be termed as insects, but not bugs. Butterflies are classified as Nymphalidae. They belong to the order Lepidoptera of class Insecta. Since they do not belong to Hemiptera, it cancels their qualification of being a true bug.

As a matter of fact, butterflies have all the features of a true insect. Starting from their structure, like all insects, they have jointed legs, compound eyes, and three-part bodies. But unlike true bugs, they do not have any mouth parts that can pierce through plant tissues. 

According to the definition of true bugs, insects of Hemiptera order which possess tissue piercing and sucking mouth parts are called bugs.

The mouthparts of butterflies are not designed for piercing but rather for activities like siphoning and sucking. These mouthparts do a good job at collecting nectar from flowers but cannot pierce through tissues. The absence of such mouthparts disqualifies them from being referred to as a ‘true bug’.

So, butterflies are simply called insects and not bugs. You could say that all bugs are insects, but not all insects can be termed as bugs. The structural differences separate butterflies from bugs and insects.

Are Butterflies Animals?

Coming to our next question, this one has a pretty simple answer. Of course, butterflies are animals. All insects whether they’re true bugs or not fall under the category of animals.

As we’ve previously mentioned, animals are living organisms with some specific features. Firstly, animals feed on biotic components. And this applies to butterflies. Butterflies feed on nectar drawn from flowers, tree sap, different organic matter, etc. This feature makes them a part of animals.

Animals also have a specialized sensory system, which is true in the case of butterflies. Butterflies have senses like vision, hearing, smell, and taste, which makes them included among animals.

Lastly, animals are known to possess a well-developed nervous system that engages in receiving stimuli. This one is also true for butterflies. These four-legged flyers have ganglions that work in coordinating the response towards different stimuli.

Since butterflies check all the boxes that an organism needs to qualify as an ‘animal’, you can definitely say that they are animals. 

What Separates Bugs From Animals?

With the discussion above, it is evident that butterflies are both animals and insects, but they are not bugs. More specifically, all insects and bugs are animals, but not all animals are insects or bugs. That can be explained if we look at the matter taxonomically.

Taxonomy refers to categorizing organisms based on hierarchy. If we look at a taxonomic classification of butterflies, for instance, the distinction between bugs, insects, and animals can be pretty clear.

The general taxonomic classification is laid out from its smallest unit to the largest one in the following setting:

Domain – Kingdom – Phylum – Class – Order – Family – Genus – Species

If we place butterflies in this setting, we get,

Domain: Eukaryote

Kingdom: Animalia (specifically animals)

Phylum: Arthropoda

Class: Insecta (insects, to be more specific) 

Order: Lepidoptera

From this setting, all living creatures below Lepidoptera are butterflies. It also implies that all butterflies are included in the Insecta class, proving that all butterflies are also insects. 

Again, the class Insecta falls under phylum Arthropoda and Kingdom Animalia, which means all insects are arthropods and parts of the bigger territory “animals”. So, all insects are animals. 

However, with bugs, the taxonomic classification stays the same until the order. This means that all bugs are part of ‘Insecta’ and ‘Animalia’, specifically insects and animals. They only start differing from their order which is Hemiptera. This taxonomic difference draws a line between insects and bugs. 

So, with this classification, it is pretty easy to denote that butterflies are both insects and animals, but they are not bugs. 

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Are butterflies and humans within a similar taxonomic system?

Yes, as a matter of fact, butterflies and humans share a similar taxonomic system. Both butterflies and humans are members of Eukaryota and Animalia. They start differing from their phylum, where butterflies belong to Insecta and humans belong to Chordata.

2. What are examples of true bugs?

True bugs belong to Hemiptera order and have special mouthparts engaged in piercing and sucking. Insect varieties like leafhoppers, bed bugs, stink bugs, water bugs, etc., are examples of true bugs. These insects not only belong to Hemiptera but also bear tissue-piercing mouth parts.

3. Do butterflies have any senses?

As a matter of fact, adult butterflies have all five senses. They possess senses like vision, hearing, smell, taste, and perception of touch. Their important sense is smell, and, to some extent, taste. The antennae of butterflies have smell sensors that are active throughout their adult life. 

Besides, butterflies also have taste sensors on their feet which help them to identify certain flowers. They also have vision, hearing, and touch sensors at some point in their lives.

4. What kind of mouth parts do butterflies have?

The mouthparts of butterflies are ideal for siphoning and sucking actions. These mouthparts help in drawing nectar from flowers, but they cannot pierce through plant tissues. The presence of siphoning-sucking mouthparts does not have any role in chewing food but helps in siphoning liquid inside their body. 

So, these mouth parts are suitable for nectar collection from different flowers as well as feeding on sap, plant matter, etc. 

5. What insects belong to Lepidoptera apart from butterflies?

There is another insect that belongs to the Lepidoptera order aside from butterflies. They are moths, which possess similar features to butterflies. Moths have different wing patterns and wing resting positions compared to butterflies. So, despite being in the same order, both moths and butterflies are quite distinct from each other.

Final Words

We’ve reached the end of the classic debate; Are butterflies bugs or animals? 

The answer stands pretty clear. Based on the structural differences as well as taxonomic classification, it is enough to conclude that butterflies are animals, but they cannot be called bugs. Although they are included among insects, their structural features set them apart from true bugs. 

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Mario Garciahttp://beinghuman.org
Hello I am Mario Garcia, I find human beings fascinating, especially our more or less endearing behavior. Bit by bit I’ve come to see us human beings not as autonomous agents in conscious control of our lives, but as incredibly complex biological organisms embedded in the process of our evolving culture. Here in our blog you will find a lot of life hacks, tech tips and information about just Being Human

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