Numbers and Classification

I don't want to go into too much depth here but I think a little insight maybe useful and interesting. First we'll look at total numbers of species of Butterflies and their general worldwide distribution.

Species

Two animals are defined as different species if they cannot breed to produce viable fertile offspring.

Numbers of Species

Of the 1,500,000 insects there are about 200,000 species of Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies) worldwide. Approximately 15,000 of these species are butterflies and the rest are moths. You can see from the map below that the tropical belt holds the largest diversity of butterfly species, with South America having the richest fauna.

Species by Region.

Species by region.

As mentioned on the contents page the European part of the green region above has about 440 species.

More Detail

So there are roughly 15,000 species of butterfly in the world, how are these categorized? Well first we split into quite large Families (e.g. Nymphalidae), then into smaller Subfamilies (e.g. Satyrinae), then into Genera (e.g. Erebia) and finally into species. A species latin name has two parts, the first is its genus and the second gives it a unique specific identification. For example for the Red admiral.;

Subsection (butterfly) Superfamily (not skipper) Family Subfamily Genus Species
Rhopalocera Papilionoidea Nymphalidae Nymphalinae Vanessa atalanta

Quite an advanced system, we've only looked at the last stages, having already reached butterflies. The whole list would include;

Phylum Class Order Suborder Section Subsection
Arthropoda  Insecta  Lepidoptera  Ditrysia  Macrolepidoptera  Rhopalocera 

Numbers of Genera and Species

Group

Genera

Species

World

Europe

US

World

Europe

US

Phylum Arthropoda (Joint-Legged Animals)

-

-

-

2,000,000

-

130,000

Class Insecta (Insects)

-

-

-

1,500,000

-

100,000

Order Lepidoptera (Moths and Butterflies)

10,000

-

1,600

200,000

-

15,000

 Suborder Zeugloptera (Mandibulate Moths)

7

-

1

200

-

3

 Suborder Aglossata (Araucaria-Seed Moths)

1

-

0

2

-

0

 Suborder Heterobathmiina (Southern-Beech Moths)

1

-

0

5

-

0

 Suborder Dacnonypha (Primitive Leaf Miners)

9

-

5

200

-

20

 Suborder Neopseustina (Neopseustid Moths)

4

-

0

9

-

0

 Suborder Exoporia (Ghost Moths, Swifts)

30

-

2

500

-

25

 Suborder Monotrysia (Leaf Miners, Yucca Moths)

150

-

20

3,000

-

250

 Suborder Ditrysia (Higher Moths and Butterflies)

9,500

-

1,500

196,000

-

14,500

  Section Macrolepidoptera

.

.

.

.

.

.

   Subsection Rhopalocera (Butterflies)

1,500

123

208

14,750

440

679

    Superfamily Papilionoidea (Non Skippers)

950

110

116

11,100

395

416

     Family Papillonidae (Swallowtails)

24

5

5

534

12

30

      Subfamily Parnassiinae (Parnassians)

8

3

1

50

7

3

      Subfamily Papilioninae (Swallowtails)

15

2

4

483

5

27

      Subfamily Baroniinae

1

0

0

1

0

0

     Family Pieridae (Whites and Sulfurs)

59

13

14

1,100

50

58

      Subfamily Pseudopontiinae

1

0

0

1

0

0

      Subfamily Dismorphiinae (Mimic Sulfurs)

4

0

1

100

0

1

      Subfamily Coliadinae (Sulfurs)

11

3

6

300

16

36

      Subfamily Pierinae (Whites)

43

10

7

700

34

21

     Family Nymphalidae (Brush-Footed Butterflies)

450

47

52

4,500

211

185

      Subfamily Danainae (Milkweed Butterflies)

8

1

2

157

2

4

      Subfamily Ithomiinae (Clear-Wing Butterflies)

47

0

0

400

0

0

      Subfamily Satyrinae (Satyrs)

200

24

12

2,000

138

43

      Subfamily Morphinae (Morphos, Brassolids)

10

0

0

200

0

0

      Subfamily Charaxinae (Goatweed Butterflies)

15

1

1

400

1

4

      Subfamily Apaturinae (Emperors)

5

2

2

50

4

5

      Subfamily Nymphalinae (Spiny Brush-Footed Butterflies)

150

19

35

1,100

66

129

      Subfamily Acracinae

5

0

0

150

0

0

      Subfamily Calinaginae

1

0

0

12

0

0

     Family Libytheidae (Snout Butterflies)

2

1

1

8

1

1

     Family Lyeacnidae (Little Butterflies)

425

44

44

4,700

121

142

      Subfamily Styginae

1

0

0

1

0

0

      Subfamily Riodininae (Metalmarks)

100

1

6

1,500

1

20

      Subfamily Curetinae

1

0

0

10

0

0

      Subfamily Lycaeninae (Hairstreaks, Coppers, and Blues)

325

43

38

3,200

120

122

    Superfamily Hesperioidea (Skippers)

.

.

.

.

.

.

     Family Hesperiidae

530

13

92

3,650

45

263

      Subfamily Megathyminae (Giant Skippers)

5

0

3

20

0

13

      Subfamily Hesperiinae (Grass Skippers)

315

8

47

2,150

14

137

      Subfamily Trapezitinae

16

0

0

65

0

0

      Subfamily Pyrginae (Herb, Shrub, and Tree Skippers)

167

5

41

1,150

31

112

      Subfamily Coeliadinae

7

0

0

90

0

0

      Subfamily Pyrrhopyginae (Mimic Skippers)

20

0

1

170

0

1

Figures collated from Tolman (Butterflies of Europe) and Scott (Butterflies of North America) and are fairly approximate. Also groupings in this list are by no means fixed, or universally accepted!

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All pictures in these pages copyright to Simon Coombes. Permission must be sought and obtained for any use.