Butterflies and moths are insects of the order Lepidoptera. Butterflies are mainly day-flying and often have large brightly coloured wings. They are classified into 7 families of which 6 are found in Malaysia.
Papilionidae: Swallowtails and birdwings are large and colourful butterflies. There are 45 species of papilionid in peninsular Malaysia, including the magnificent Rajah Brooke’s birdwing (Trogonoptera brookiana) and the common lime butterfly (Papilio demoleus).
Pieridae: The white and sulphur butterflies are medium to small butterflies with about 1100 species, mainly from Asia and Africa. There are about 45 pierid species in peninsular Malaysia. The females and males usually have different wing patterns and the females of white species usually have darker markings. In many species, the underside of the hindwing is brightly coloured.
Nymphalidae: Nymphalids are the largest butterfly family with about 6000 species discovered worldwide. There are about 275 species in peninsular Malaysia. The forelegs are reduced and not used for walking, and in the males the front tarsus is reduced to a single hairy segment, thus they are also known as brush-footed butterflies. They are medium sized to large butterflies and many have brightly coloured wings.
Lycaenidae: Lycaenidae is the largest butterfly family in peninsular Malaysia with about 394 species. They are small and often have bright colours – iridescent blues, greens, reds and oranges. Larvae of many lycaenids are associated with ants. Many species of lycaenid look similar and cannot be easily distinguished.
Riodinidae: Although about 1300 species are known, there are only 17 riodinid species in peninsular Malaysia. They are small to medium sized and brightly coloured. Many riodinids have small metallic-looking spots on their wings, therefore they are also known as metalmarks. Riodinids were placed within the Lycaenidae family in the past.
Hesperiidae: The skipper butterflies are named after their darting flight habits. They have hooked antennae clubs and relatively large bodies and compound eyes. Most skippers are small and have drab brown and grey colourations. There are about 3500 species worldwide and 255 species are recorded from peninsular Malaysia. Many species of skipper look alike and cannot be distinguished from photographs.