Gossamer-winged butterflies are a very large family of butterflies with delicate shimmering wings. The adults are usually small and brightly coloured and include all the blues, coppers, hairstreaks, sunbeams and harvesters. In many species the caterpillars depend on ants for various services, including protection, and will produce a sugary secretion to attract these little helpers. This is the second largest family of butterflies, containing more than 5,000 species, many of which are now quite rare.
Scientific name: Lycaenidae
The following habitats are found across the Gossamer-winged butterflies distribution range. Find out more about these environments, what it takes to live there and what else inhabits them.
Discover what these behaviours are and how different plants and animals use them.
Additional data source: Animal Diversity Web
Lycaenidae is the second-largest family of butterflies (behind the Brush-footed butterflies), with over 5,000 species worldwide, whose members are also called gossamer-winged butterflies. They constitute about 40% of the known butterfly species.
The family is traditionally divided into the subfamilies of the blues (Polyommatinae), the coppers (Lycaeninae), the hairstreaks (Theclinae) and the harvesters (Miletinae); others include the Lipteninae, Liphyrinae, Curetinae and Poritiinae. A few authorities still include the family Riodinidae within the Lycaenidae. The monotypic former subfamily Styginae represented by Styx infernalis from the Peruvian Andes has been placed within the subfamily Euselasiinae of the family Riodinidae.
Adults are small, under 5 cm usually, and brightly coloured, sometimes with a metallic gloss. The male's forelegs are reduced in size and lack claws.
Larvae are often flattened rather than cylindrical, with glands that may produce secretions that attract and subdue ants. Their cuticles tend to be thickened. Some larva are capable of producing vibrations and low sounds that are transmitted through the substrates they inhabit. They use these sounds to communicate with ants.
Adult individuals often have hairy antenna-like tails complete with black and white annulated appearance. Many species also have a spot at the base of the tail and some turn around upon landing to confuse potential predators from recognizing the true head orientation. This causes predators to approach from the true head end resulting in early visual detection.
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