Dictionary (terms)

Polyphagous.. ecdysis.. proboscis.. while the experienced breeder may be familiar with all these terms, it may be unclear to beginners. So here’s a dictionary of all the relevant terms you may find.



Aestivation – Oversummering, some invertebrates spend the summers in a dormant state to avoid high temperatures and drought

Arctiidae – Tiger moths (since recently not a family anymore, now a subfamily of Erebidae)

Aposematic – Warning signals that are meant to warn predators. These may include bright colours and sounds. A common example is the black and yellow stripes of a wasp, or the bright colours of poison dart frogs. However, an organism doesn’t need to be dangerous or toxic to have these warnings.

Brachypterous – Having reduced wings. The majority of Lepidoptera have winged, flying adults – however there are exceptions. Some Lepidoptera have flightless adults that do not appear to have wings at all. In reality they do have wings, but these wings are usually reduced to a very small size or atrophied. For example: the females of Orgyia antiqua. While in most cases only the females are flightless and males still have functional wings, there are species known of which both males and females lack wings.

Diapause – A dormant state of metabolic inactivity. Many butterflies and moths overwinter in diapause, as a pupa. Often synonymously used as “overwintering”, although this is not always the case. 

Dimorphic – Literally “having multiple forms”. Male and female butterflies of the same species often have totally different appearances: this is called sexual dimorphism. However, caterpillars can also have different colour forms, and so can butterflies of the same gender and specie. 

Ecdysis – The process of shedding skin/moulting in invertebrates.

Hemolymph – The primary body fluid of an invertebrate. Similar to “blood” in invertebrates. Hemolymph is however very different from blood, and does not transport oxygen to the cells, and is allowed to flow freely through the invertebrate. 

Host plant – A specific food plant used for a specie. Many butterflies and moths specialise in a single family of plants. Cabbage whites specialise in cabbage-like plants. Cabbage would be their host plant.

Instar – One of the several life stages of an invertebrate. When they shed their skins, invertebrates develop to the next phase, which may have a different appearance and behaviour. The deathshead hawkmoth caterpillar for example, goes through 5 instars before becoming a pupa. 

Iridiscent – Shiny, structural coloration. Many butterflies don’t utilise pigments to archieve their colour, but deflecting colours of the right wavelength. Common examples: The colours of soap bubbles, the rainbow in a CD-ROM, but also the wings of a blue morpho or a purple emperor

Lepidoptera – Taxonomical term, it includes all butterflies and moths. (“Lepis” = scale, “Pteron”= wing, literally scalewing: the scales on the wings of butterflies and moths are a unique characteristic)

Meconium – Waste product that is created when a new body is formed, many newly emerged butterflies and moths expel this fluid after emergence, which may make a big mess! Some species save it inside their bodies in order to squirt it around when startled, as self-defense. Also seen in newborn babies in vertebrates.

Mimicry – Literally “mimicking”: in order to fool predators, a prey may strongly resemble another organism or object. Some moths strongly resemble a dead leaf. Others may mimick dangerous organisms: many clearwing moths (Sesiidae) resemble a wasp in order to be left alone.

Polyphagous – Eating multiple types of food. This is relevant because some species like to eat a single species of plant, refusing anything else. Polyphagous species will eat multiple kinds of food and are more opportunistic. 

Proboscis – Tubular mouthparts in insects used for feeding and sucking. Butterflies and moths can unroll them like a hose, and feed through them like a straw, taking in liquid food. Assasins bugs and mosquitos use it to pierce prey/hosts and suck up their body fluids. 

Pupation – The process of a caterpillars turning into a pupa

Saturniid – Plural: Saturniidae. The family of giant silkmoths.

Sphingid – Plural: Sphingidae. The family of hawkmoths

Tarsus: The insect’s feet, usually referring to the claws (tarsal claws)

Univoltine (voltinism)- Having only a single generation per year, usually this means a specie has to overwinter at some point. Opposite of multivoltine

Thank you for reading my article. This is the end of this page. Below you will find some useful links to help you navigate my website better or help you find more information that you need about moths and butterflies. 

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Citations: Coppens, B. (2019); Written by Bart Coppens; based on a real life breeding experience [for citations in literature and publications] 

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The aim of this website is to provide information about many species of moths and butterflies around the world, with a slight focus on rearing them in captivity.

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