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6 Beautiful Butterflies That Aren't Actually Butterflies (With Photos)

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The spectacular Uranid moth

The spectacular Uranid moth

Some Insects Just Like to Be Seen

Most insects do their best to not be seen – the level of camouflage and cryptic patterns shown by insects is simply amazing. One look at a stick insect, 12 inches long and yet virtually invisible among the twigs and branches where it lives, and the truth is inescapable: Insects are masters of disguise.

Bright Wings, Bright Colors

There is another group, however, who very much want to be seen. Their bright colors and "look at me" habits are well-known to even the most casual observer of nature. We're speaking, of course, of butterflies. These insects are often bright, active, and noticeable.

Butterfly, or Something Else?

It may look like a butterfly, but this peacock katydid isn't even closely related.

It may look like a butterfly, but this peacock katydid isn't even closely related.

Beautiful Butterflies That Aren't Butterflies

Let's look at some insects that flash the bright colors and brilliant wings of butterflies, but belong to completely different groups. These "butterflies" are not butterflies – and some are actually ferocious predators!

Pterochroza-ocellata

Pterochroza-ocellata

1. The Peacock Katydid

This gorgeous creature may look like a beautiful butterfly, but it is much more closely related to grasshoppers and crickets. All katydids have four wings, but the peacock katydid is one of only a few with wings that have beautiful colors and patterns.

The upper wings are cryptic, meaning they are camouflaged with colors and patterns that look like the leaves that the peacock katydid lives on. But when a predator threatens the katydid, it flashes the brightly colored hind wings. There are big eyespots on those wings, so to the predator it looks like a larger animal has just opened its eyes. This is a common defensive tactic among insects.

Peacock Katydid Video!

When a predator threatens the katydid, it flashes the brightly colored hind wings. There are big eyespots on those wings, so to the predator it looks like a larger animal has just opened its eyes.

A beautiful Uranid moth

A beautiful Uranid moth

2. The Uranid Moth

There are many kinds of moths that could be confused for a butterfly, but the uranid moth outdoes all of them. These gorgeous insects have broad, brightly colored wings, often with spectacular metallic iridescence.

Uranid moths appear to mimic swallowtail butterflies. I have seen them swarming on jungle trails, and at these times it is hard to believe that they are actually moths and not butterflies. Most moths fly at night, but these moths are out in in the middle of the day; they like to land in sunny spots. Moths that do occur during the day often mimic bumblebees, wasps, or even hummingbirds; it's very unusual for a moth to look and act like a big, beautiful, day-flying butterfly!

Another Kind of Uranid Moth

Uraniid moth

Uraniid moth

 Rhyothemis fuliginosa at Shimanto City,Kochi Pref,Japan

Rhyothemis fuliginosa at Shimanto City,Kochi Pref,Japan

3. The Butterfly Dragonfly

Another insect that looks and acts like a pretty butterfly is this dragonfly, which is not even closely related to actual butterflies. All dragonflies are swift, merciless predators that scoop up other insects in mid-air, eat them alive while on the wing, and then drop the remains as they go in search of another victim. Not too much like a butterfly!

Many dragonflies are quick, darting fliers, but this species and many like it have a more fluttering flight. It might be possible to mistake it for a butterfly, but one look at its habits and you would know that you are not dealing with an actual butterfly.

Another Dragonfly With Butterfly Beauty

6-beautiful-butterflies-that-arent-really-butterflies
6-beautiful-butterflies-that-arent-really-butterflies

4. The Butterfly Cicadas

Many of us are familiar with the common "dog day" cicadas that sing from the trees starting in mid-summer. These insects are well-camouflaged among the leaves where they live – cicadas are green and brown, and even though cicadas are quite large and very very loud, they are nearly impossible to see from their perch in a tree.

There are, however, several species of cicada that are as brightly colored as butterflies. Most of them are tropical, and several are found in the Eastern Hemisphere. Many of the most butterfly-like belong to the tribe Gaeanini, a group of cicadas that have a substantial following among entomologists (scientists who study insects).

Lanternfly (Pyrops astarte)

Lanternfly (Pyrops astarte)

5. Fabulous Fulgorids

This group has many members that could be mistaken for butterflies. They are usually small in size, but their wings are brightly colored and they fly during the day. In many ways, fulgorids resemble some groups of day-flying moths, even though they are much closely related to aphids – yes, aphids, those tiny little bugs that occur in large colonies, sucking plant juices and being attended to by ants.

Like aphids, fulgorids eject sweet fluid from their rear ends; this fluid is gobbled up by many kinds of other insects, especially ants but also including some kinds of butterflies and moths. It all gets very confusing very fast!

Fulgoridae indet.

Fulgoridae indet.

Fulgoridae Pyrops Intricata

Fulgoridae Pyrops Intricata

Titanacris Albipes

Titanacris Albipes

6. The Winged Beauty Grasshopper

Grasshoppers are structurally very similar to butterflies; they have four wings, six legs and a long abdomen with reproductive organs at the end. In other ways they are very different, since they do not undergo complete metamorphosis like a butterfly (egg-caterpillar-pupa-adult). The fact that there are grasshoppers as beautiful as a butterfly should not be too surprising!

Spotted Lanternfly

Spotted Lanternfly

(Dis)honorable Mention: The Spotted Lanternfly

This stunning insect may be very well known to you – it's the spotted lanternfly, the invasive species du jour. A member of the family Fulgoridae, like other insects in this guide, the spotted lanternfly sucks juices from plant stems. It is truly gorgeous, but that doesn't make up for the fact that it's an invasive species from Asia with no natural enemies in North America; as a result, it is threatening to destroy grape and other crops all along the Eastern Seaboard.

This is one bug that you are most definitely allowed to step on.

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Resources

The following sources were used for this guide:

https://www.cicadamania.com/cicadas/category/tribe/gaeanini/

https://www.indiancicadas.org/tx/20-Gaeanini

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.