Butterflies‎ > ‎


How butterflies are classified within the Animal Kingdom.


The scientific classification of animals, although straightforward in concept, requires many words that at first acquaintance makes the process seem terribly complex. Since this is not a scientific site, we can keep it fairly simple. But please consult a biology book for the real thing.

Animals are grouped according to their characteristics; the more similar they are, the closer they are grouped. If two animals (in this case of opposite sex) are so similar that they can breed and produce fertile offspring, they belong to the same Species.

Animals that are sufficiently similar that they might breed, but if they do they produce sterile offspring, belong to the same Genus. (Lions and tigers are of the same genus)

Animals having many similar characters but which are too different to even consider breeding belong to the same Family. (Lions and pussy cats)

At the next level of differences animals are grouped into Orders, for example cats and dogs are in the Order Carnivora, so named because they eat meat.

Animals more different yet (but with many fundamental similarities) are in the same Class, for example mammals are in the Class Mammalia

Animals with basic structures alike belong in the same Phylum (e.g. all animals with backbones are in the Phylum "Chordata", a word meaning having a spinal column, insects are in the Phylum Arthropoda (having a jointed foot), along with spiders and crustaceans.

All animals are in the same Kingdom, plants are in another.

So butterflies and moths are in the:

Kingdom of Animals

Phylum Arthropoda
Class Insecta
Order Lepidoptera (meaning scaly wings, from Greek, Lepis = scale, pteron = wing).

Butterflies and moths are in the same Order because they have so many comon features. Their diffferences put them into separate sub-orders, at which point things become sufficiently complicated that you need to study biology.

Among the butterflies there are six Families:
Skippers, Flats, Awls and Darters (Hesperiidae)

Swallowtails, (Papilionidae) of which very few Australian members actually have swallow-tails!

Whites and Yellows (Pieridae)

Browns, Nymphs and Danaines (Nymphalidae)

Blues, Coppers and Hairstreaks (Lycaenidae)

Metalmarks (Riodinidae)


A butterfly can be fairly easily identified once you have recognized the Family it belongs to. Then just from the wing pattern, looking at pictures can get you pretty close to an identification. There are some skippers that are so similar it takes expert examination of many features for a certain identification. Identifying a butterfly on the wing is fairly easy for the common and larger species, but many of the smaller species are pretty hard to distinguish without extensive examination - and that really requires a killed and 'set' specimen (wings spread and the insect dried).