Danaus chrysippus, Crete - photo © K. Bormpoudaki
Butterflies of Crete
About Βutterflies of Crete
Butterflies of Crete
Welcome to the spectacular world of the butterflies of Crete and explore the flying wonders of the local natural heritage!
Undoubtedly, butterflies have always been an important part of Cretan biodiversity, depicted on wall paintings, rings, and seals by Minoan artists thousands of years ago.
This website aims to be a useful guide to all butterflies on the island of Crete, Greece with detailed information on each species. There is also extra information about certain butterfly habitats on the island and a short photographic presentation of interesting moths.
Finally, a very useful application for the identification of any butterflies resident in Greece (© L. N Pamperis) is available.
Scene of tree worship. 1600-1500 BC, Heraklion Arch. Museum
Zerynthia cretica (endemic) – photo © Christodoulos Makris
Butterflies of Crete – Species
There are 47 confirmed species of butterflies in Crete:
- 45 resident species of butterflies and 2 regular migrants – Vanessa cardui (Painted Lady) and Danaus chrysippus (African Monarch).
- 4 of them are endemic – Zerynthia cretica (Cretan Festoon), Hipparchia cretica (Cretan Grayling), Coenonympha thyrsis (Cretan Small Heath), and Kretania psylorita (Cretan Argus).
There are 236 butterfly species resident in Greece (L.Ν. Pamperis, 2022) and is thus one of the countries in Europe with the richest butterfly fauna.
Anatomy of a Βutterfly
Butterflies are insects that form the macrolepidopteran suborder Rhopalocera from the order Lepidoptera, which also includes moths.
As in all insects, the adult butterfly has a three-parted body with a head, thorax, and abdomen. On the head are a pair of antennae, a pair of multi-faceted compound eyes, and a proboscis. The thorax is composed of three segments, each with a pair of legs, and bears two pairs of wings, a pair of forewings, and a pair of hindwings.
See more info about the anatomy of a butterfly including all the metamorphosis stages here.
Anatomy of a butterfly – photo © K. Bormpoudaki
Life cycle of a butterfly – photos © Antonia Aga
Butterflies have the typical four-stage insect life cycle, known also as metamorphosis.
Firstly, winged adults lay eggs on the food plant on which their larvae, named also caterpillars, will feed. Then, the caterpillars grow, sometimes very rapidly, and when fully developed, pupate in a chrysalis (pupa).
When metamorphosis is complete, the pupal skin splits, the adult insect climbs out, and after its wings are expanded and dried, it flies off.
Read more info about the miraculous life cycle of a butterfly and enjoy unique photos here.
Adult butterflies have large, often brightly colored wings, and conspicuous, fluttering flight. They are often polymorphic, and many species make use of camouflage, mimicry, and aposematism to evade their predators. And some, like the African Monarch and the Painted Lady, migrate over long distances.
Many butterflies are threatened by parasites or parasitoids, including wasps, protozoans, flies, and other invertebrates, or are preyed upon by other organisms. In addition, some species are pests because in their larval stages they can damage domestic crops or trees; other species are agents of pollination of some plants. But the most important threats that butterflies face are habitat loss and destruction.
Butterfly species should also be protected against the developing worldwide trade in butterflies which is growing fast due to the lack of restrictions on collecting, importing, buying, or selling of butterflies. Endemic, rare, and threatened species are more vulnerable because of their high demand in this market.
Hipparchia cretica (endemic) – photo © K. Bormpoudaki
Coenonympha thyrsis (endemic) – photo © K. Bormpoudaki
Butterflies and the Ecosystem
Butterflies and moths are indicators of biodiversity and a healthy environment. They are fragile, so they react quickly to environmental changes. Therefore, their struggle to survive is a serious warning about the environment.
For example, pesticides use in agriculture, habitat change and loss as well as climate change are the biggest threats to butterflies today. Their habitats have been destroyed on a massive scale, and now patterns of climate and weather are shifting unpredictably in response to pollution of the atmosphere.
But the disappearance of butterflies is more serious than just a loss of color in the countryside. It is said that in the last fifty years, butterfly populations have declined by really high percentages. And most importantly, we should know that butterflies are today facing the very real prospect of extinction.
Many butterflies are closely linked to specific plants and habitats. So an increase or decrease in their diversity is a sign of the changing quality of a place and the impact of that change on fauna.
Adult butterflies and caterpillars are an important element of the food chain. They are food for many predators, including other insects, songbirds, mice, lizards, turtles, spiders, etc.
In addition, the larvae of a few butterflies eat harmful insects, and a few are predators of ants, while others live as mutualists in association with ants.
Though butterflies may not be as efficient as bees in pollinating plants and crops, butterflies certainly do their fair share in bringing about seed and fruit production.
Kretania psylorita (endemic) – photo © K. Bormpoudaki