There are several systems in scientific classification, also known as taxonomy, when it comes to living things. Although standard classification is listed as kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus and species, there are also in-between categories. All butterflies are in the same order, but there are separate families of butterflies, each with its own collection of genera containing one or more species. Taxonomy is a science and as such is constantly changing. Families, genera and species are sometimes rearranged.
Kingdom, Phylum, Class and Order
At the top of the phylogenetic tree is the kingdom in which a species resides. Butterflies are in the kingdom Animalia, also known as Metazoa. They share this kingdom with mammals, other insects, arachnids, fishes, reptiles, amphibians and others. Butterflies belong to the phylum Arthropoda, or the arthropods. Arthropods are bilaterally symmetrical animals with strongly segmented bodies. Arthropoda also includes centipedes, crustaceans and arachnids. Butterflies belong to the subphylum Hexapoda, or six-legged arthropods, and in the class Insecta, the insects. Finally, all butterflies are in the order Lepidoptera, which means "scale wing," along with skippers and moths.
Suborders further separate an order into distinctly related families. In some cases, there are also infraorders, which further divide the suborders. Ditrysia is one suborder of Lepidoptera and contains most superfamilies of moths and butterflies, including most moth and all butterfly families.
Superfamilies and Families
Superfamily names in the order Lepidoptera typically end in "oidea." All butterfly families, which are closely related, are in the superfamliy Papilionoidea, while the other 45 or so lepidopteran superfamilies contain moth families. There are five families of butterflies: Lycaenidae, Nymphalidae, Papilionidae, Pieridae and Riodinidae.
Genera and Species
Finally, butterflies are classified into a genus, or a group of species that are extremely closely related. In other words, a genus is a type of organism. For example, the dog, wolf and coyote are all in the genus Canis and are all very genetically similar. Within a genus are one or more species; a species is defined as a group of individuals that are capable of breeding and producing fertile offspring. There are an estimated 12,000 to 20,000 species of recognized butterflies on Earth.
- University of Michigan Animal Diversity Web: Lepidoptera Classification
- North Carolina State University General Entomology: Lepidoptera
- The Lepidopterists' Society: Terms Used in the Classification of Lepidoptera
- University of Michigan Animal Diversity Web: Papilionoidae Classification
- Oregon State University Common Trees of the Pacific Northwest: What is a Genus?
- The Children's Butterfly Site: How Many Kinds of Butterflies and Moths Exist?
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With a professional background in gardening, landscapes, pests and natural ecosystems, Jasey Kelly has been sharing her knowledge through writing since 2009 and has served as an expert writer in these fields. Kelly's background also includes childcare, and animal rescue and care.