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State Insect of California Lesson: The California Dogface Butterfly

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California's state insect is the California dogface butterfly. It was designated in 1972, and is one of many similar species that are distributed across the United States, and around the world. This article tells you what you need to know about this wonderful butterfly.

The California Dogface Butterfly's Scientific Name

California's state insect belongs to a group of butterflies that are distributed around the world, from chilly northern regions to steamy tropical zones. Northern species are some of the most familiar butterflies you will see -- they are the very common cabbage whites and common sulphurs that are in every garden and field once summer is underway. These butterflies are very plain, but the male California dogface is among the most exquisitely colored insects in North America.

The scientific name for this group is the family Pieridae. There are many kinds of butterflies in the group, and they all share some special characteristics.

The scientific name of the California dogface butterfly is Zerene eurydice. That means the genus name is Zerene and the species name is eurydice. Scientific names are always in italics, and they always have the species name last. It's a little like having your last name first and your first name last.

As a middle school teacher myself, I wrote this guide to be useful for both students and teachers. It's a great place to start for research ideas and science fair projects!

How the Dogface Got Its Common Name

You have likley already figured this out, but the common name of the California dogface comes from the cute poodle face that appears on each upper forewing. There are at least two other North American butterflies with a similar profile "picture" on their wings, but the California dogface has a mutt's mug that's hard to miss.

Another feature of this butterfly is the difference between the male and female. This is called "sexual dimorphism," and in this species it means that the female has a plain yellow-white ground color, while the male possesses lovely shades of pink and yellow-orange that can mkae the butterfly seem to glow in the sun. It's no wonder that one of the California dogface's other common names is "flying pansy."

The caterpillar of Zerene eurydice

The caterpillar of Zerene eurydice

The California Dogface Caterpillar

Like most caterpillars in the family Pieridae, the larva of the California dogface butterfly is long and slender, without fur, horns or spines. It feed on false indigo, and thanks to its subtle green color, it can be very hard to see when resting on the leaves. Up close, however, it is quite beautiful, as this wonderful photo from wildutah.us illustrates.

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Complete Metamorphosis

"Complete metamorphosis" is the term used to describe the life cycle of insects that go through a four-stage sequence of forms. For butterflies, this means egg-larva-cocoon/chrysalis-adult. It helps to take the butterfly as the example, although dragonflies, bees, wasps, flies, beetles, and many other insects also go through complete metamorphosis. Like butterflies, they all have larvae and all of the other developmental stages.

The tiger swallowtail butterfly is typical of the insects that undergo complete metamorphosis. The egg is laid on a variety if leaves, and the caterpillar that hatches out eats the leaves of the plant. As it grows, it sheds its skin, also known as molting. The stages between molts are called instars, and after the last instar, the caterpillar sheds its skin one more time.

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The last tine the caterpillar sheds its skin, it enters the cocoon/chrysalis phase, known by scientists as "diapause." It's also called a "pupa." Inside the pupa, the insect's cells are rearranging. They actually break down into a kind of goop, and then reassemble to form the body and wings of the adult butterfly or moth.

The final "instar" occurs when the insect hatches out of the pupal skin. It is now ready to mate and continue the cycle. The adult feeds just enough to promote the goal of mating and laying eggs; other than that, it has no purpose on this planet.

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A Hard Butterfly to Catch

California dogface butterflies are very hard to get close to because they are wary and fast fliers. This is very useful when escaping predators, but poses problems when it comes to getting good photographs of them in the field. For this reason, there are very few photos online of this species sitting still with its wings open. If you want to see the markings and colors clearly, your best bet is photos of preserved specimens from museum or university collections.

Check Out These Other State Insect Articles on Owlcation!

Resources

The following sources were used for this guide:

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.

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