When we see a butterfly flapping its wings, or we sadly witness a butterfly with a broken wing, we often wonder what is holding the wing together? Will the butterfly’s wing repair itself? Do butterflies have bones in their wings?
Butterflies are considered invertebrates. This means that they do not have a spinal column. Like all insects, butterflies have a unique skeletal system that varies greatly from humans or animals. In fact, butterflies have no bones at all!
Do Butterflies Have Any Bones?
Butterflies do not have bones in the same way that humans or other animals do. This is because butterflies are insects, a special subcategory of invertebrates.
Invertebrates refer to any creature that lacks a backbone. Common invertebrates include octopuses, insects, spiders, and molluscs.
In fact, invertebrates are said to make up over 95% of the world’s population (fact source here).
Like all insects, butterflies share the same anatomy as many other insects. They have three body segments, some antennas, 6 legs, and a strong exoskeleton. The exoskeleton replaces the internal skeleton.
The exoskeleton of a butterfly protects internal organs as well as holds the shape of the butterfly. You can think of an exoskeleton as a very hard skin layer or like armour over a knight.
This layer provides protection and creates stability within the insect. Exoskeletons are connected and compact. Sadly, if a part of the exoskeleton is pierced, broken, or damaged, the insect will die.
Unlike animals with internal bones that can repair themselves, the exoskeleton of a butterfly is all or nothing.
Even with a unique skeletal system, butterflies still have other body functions that help them live that are similar to humans.
While they do not have red blood like us, they have a substance called hemolymph that acts as their blood. Butterflies have hearts that pump this substance throughout their body. They also have a brain and eyes.
What are Butterfly Wings Made Of?
While it may seem like butterfly wings are made out of glass or painted on by artists, they are actually made of thin layers of a protein compound called chitin.
Chitin is what gives the butterfly wing its stability and shape. Within the wings, there are tubular systems and veins that allow for complete communication between the butterfly’s brain and its wings.
These tubes help the butterfly breathe, read the environment, and sense sunlight. While the chitin and the layer of tubular systems help the butterfly wings work, scales cover the entire wing to create the colours and patterns we all know and love.
Surprisingly, the beautiful colour and artwork on a butterfly wing is not made of feathers, fur, skin, or other substances. Instead, it is made of scales like a fish’s body.
The scales give the illusion of iridescent shades and colours that can even seem to change in different lighting.
Every type of butterfly has a different and noticeable colour and pattern on its wings. This helps make butterflies easy to identify.
Monarch butterflies are known for their bright and bold orange and black wings while peacock butterflies are known for their amazingly realistic “eye” patterns on theirs.
It is not uncommon for butterfly scales to sometimes flake off. This is especially true if the butterfly is being handled or touched frequently.
When the scales do fall, they are not replenished. Sadly, the butterfly will not be able to replace its scales, and the wing can lose its colouring, turn dull, or even lose the pattern entirely.
Our 14 Fun Facts About Butterflies
Losing large amounts of scales can also cause the butterfly to die quicker. Shortening the lifespan of the butterfly is caused by increased chances of predator attack, human interference or accidental injury, and even creating issues within the tubular systems of the wings.
Butterfly wings are incredibly delicate and can easily break if handled. It is best not to handle these beautiful creatures but instead to take in their beauty from a safe and respectable distance.
Yes, butterfly wings are transparent. They are made up of lots of tiny scales that are made of chitin which allows some light to pass through.
Butterflies are considered invertebrates and they do not have an internal skeletal system. Instead, they have an exoskeleton. Their exoskeleton encompasses their entire body and protects it like a coat of armour.
While this hardy exterior can take on a lot of force, if something were to crack it, pierce it, or crush it, there would be no way to repair it and the butterfly would die.
If we break an arm bone, our bodies can heal it, butterflies do not have that luxury.
The wings of the butterfly are made from the same material as their exoskeleton, chitin. This material is hardy and creates the structure of the butterfly. Inside the wings are internal channels that allow air, water, and stimuli to pass back and forth.