Lepidoptera (pronounced /ˌlɛpɪˈdɒptərə/) is a large order of insects that includes moths and butterflies (called lepidopterans). It is one of the most speciose orders in the world, encompassing moths and the three superfamilies of butterflies, skipper butterflies, and moth-butterflies and found virtually everywhere. The name is derived from Ancient Greek λεπίδος (scale) and πτερόν (wing). Comprising over 160,000 described species,:699 in 126 families and 46 superfamilies, the Lepidoptera show many variations of the basic body structure which have evolved to gain advantages in lifestyle and distribution. Recent estimates suggest that the order may have more species, and is among the four largest, most successful orders, along with the Hymenoptera, Diptera, and the Coleoptera.
Species of the order Lepidoptera are commonly characterized as being covered in scales, having two large compound eyes, and an elongated mouthpart called a proboscis. Almost all species have membranous wings, except for a few which have crossvein wings. The larvae are called caterpillars and are completely different in form, having a cylindrical body with a well developed head, mandible mouthparts, and from 0–11 (usually 8) pairs of legs.
The Lepidoptera have, over millions of years, evolved a wide range of wing patterns and colouration ranging from drab moths akin to the related order Trichoptera to the brightly coloured and complex-patterned butterflies. Accordingly, this is the most recognized and popular of insect orders with many people involved in the observing, study, collecting, rearing and commerce of these insects. A person who collects or studies this order is referred to as a lepidopterist. Many species of the order are of economic interest by virtue of their important natural role through pollination or the silk they produce.
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