The Nymphalidae is a family of about 5,000 species of butterflies which are distributed throughout most of the world. These are usually medium sized to large butterflies. Most species have a reduced pair of forelegs and many hold their colourful wings flat when resting. They are also called brush-footed butterflies or four-footed butterflies. Many species are brightly colored and include popular species such as the emperor, admirals, tortoiseshells and fritillaries. However, the underwings are in contrast often dull and in some species look remarkably like dead leaves, or are much paler, producing a cryptic effect that helps the butterfly disappear into its surroundings.



In adult butterflies the first pair of legs are small or reduced, giving the family the other names of four-footed or brush-footed butterflies. The caterpillars are hairy or spiky with projections on the head, and the chrysalids have shiny spots. This small, active butterfly can be seen perched on leaves wherever the sun is shining.

The forewing has the submedial vein (vein 1) unbranched and in one subfamily forked near base; medial vein with three branches, veins 2, 3 and 4; veins 5 and 6 arising from the points of junction of the discocellulars; subcostal vein and its continuation beyond apex of cell, vein 7, with never more than four branches, veins 8–11 ; 8 and 9 always arising from vein 7, 10 and also 11 sometimes from vein 7 but more often free, i.e. given off by the subcostal vein before apex of cell.[1]

The hindwing has internal (1a) and precostal veins. The cell in both wings closed or open, often closed in the fore, open in the hindwing. Dorsal margin of hind wing channelled to receive the abdomen in many of the forms.[1]

Antennae always with two grooves on the underside; club variable in shape. Throughout the family the front pair of legs in the male, and with three exceptions (Libythea, Pseudergolis and Calinaga) in the female also, is reduced in size and functionally impotent; in some the atrophy of the forelegs is considerable, e.g. Danainae and Satyrinae. In many of the forms of these subfamilies the fore legs are kept pressed against the underside of the thorax, and are in the male often very inconspicuous.[1]

Systematics and phylogeny

The phylogeny of the Nymphalidae is complex. Several taxa are of unclear position, reflecting the fact that some subfamilies were formerly well-recognized as distinct families due to insufficient study.

There are five main clades within the family:[2]

The libytheine clade (basal)

The danaine clade (basal)

  • Danainae (Milkweed butterflies. Earlier treated as distinct family Danaidae.)
Host plant families include Apocynaceae, Asclepiadoideae (subfamily of Apocynaceae), and Moraceae.
Most species with long wings, some having transparent wings. Host plants in the families Apocynaceae, Gesneriaceae and Solanaceae.
Caterpillars resemble those of the Danainae and feed on Apocynaceae.

The satyrine clade

Mimics of the Danainae and restricted to host plants in the family Moraceae.[3]
Tropical canopy butterflies. Caterpillars often with head spines or projections. Mostly edible species with some Batesian mimics. Host plants in the families Annonaceae, Celastraceae, Convolvulaceae, Euphorbiaceae, Fabaceae, Flacourtiaceae, Lauraceae, Myrtaceae, Piperaceae, Poaceae, Rhamnaceae, Rutaceae, Santalaceae and Sapindaceae.[3]
Include the spectacular neotropical Morphos. Food plants include the Arecaceae, Bignoniaceae, Fabaceae, Menispermaceae, Poaceae and Sapindaceae.
  • Brassolini (Owls. Neotropical with 70–80 species. Mostly crepuscular. Sometimes considered a subfamily Brassolinae.)
Host plants in the families Arecaceae, Bromeliaceae, Heliconiaceae, Musaceae, and Poaceae.[3]
  • Satyrinae (Satyrs and Browns. Earlier treated as distinct family Satyridae.)
Host plants in the families Arecaceae, Araceae, Cyperaceae, Heliconiaceae, Poaceae, and Selaginellaceae.

The heliconiine clade (sister group of the nymphaline clade; excludes former tribes Biblidini and Cyrestini, and tribes Pseudergolini and Coeini.)

  • Heliconiinae (Earlier treated as distinct family Heliconiidae.)
Colourful tropical butterflies noted for Müllerian mimicry. All species use host plants in the family Passifloraceae.
  • Acraeini (Mostly African, but some species in Asia. Sometimes considered a family Acraeinae.)
Host plant in the families Asteraceae, Passifloraceae, Sterculiaceae, Tiliaceae and Urticaceae.

The nymphaline clade (sister group of the heliconiine clade; also includes tribes Coeini and Pseudergolini)

Host plants in the family Ulmaceae. Caterpillars smooth with bifid tails and horns on the head.[3]
Some species migratory. Caterpillars sometimes covered in spines. Host plants include Acanthaceae, Caprifoliaceae, Convolvulaceae, Euphorbiaceae, Fagaceae, Flacourtiaceae, Lamiaceae, Loranthaceae, Moraceae, Plantaginaceae, Poaceae, Rubiaceae, Rutaceae, Salicaceae, Sapindaceae, Scrophulariaceae, Urticaceae and Verbenaceae.[3]

Example species from this family


  1. ^ a b c Charles Thomas Bingham (1905). Butterflies, Volume 1. The Fauna of British India, Including Ceylon and Burma. London: Taylor and Francis. http://www.archive.org/details/TheFunaOfBritishIndiaButterfliesVolI. 
  2. ^ Niklas Wahlberg, Elisabet Weingartner & Sören Nylin (2003). Towards a better understanding of the higher systematics of Nymphalidae (Lepidoptera: Papilionoidea). In Gisella Caccone & Giacomo Bernardi. "Papers presented at the Mammalian Phylogeny symposium during the 2002 Annual Meeting of the Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution, Sorrento, Italy, June 13–16, 2002" (PDF). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 28 (3): 473–484. doi:10.1016/S1055-7903(03)00052-6. PMID 12927132. http://nymphalidae.utu.fi/Wahlbergetal2003b.pdf. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Philip J. DeVries (2001). "Nymphalidae". In Simon A. Levin. Encyclopedia of Biodiversity. Academic Press. pp. 559–573. doi:10.1016/B0-12-226865-2/00039-0. ISBN 978-0-12-226865-6. 

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  • Nymphalidae — prop. n. A natural family of large beautifully colored butterflies, called also the {brush footed butterflies}; formerly called {Nymphales}. Syn: family {Nymphalidae}. [WordNet 1.5] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Nymphalidae —   [griechisch], die Fleckenfalter …   Universal-Lexikon

  • Nymphalidae — Nymphalidés …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Nymphalidae —   Nymphalidae …   Wikipedia Español

  • Nymphalidae — Edelfalter Philaethria hecale Systematik Klasse: Insekten (Insecta) Überordnung …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Nymphalidae — noun large beautifully colored butterflies • Syn: ↑family Nymphalidae • Hypernyms: ↑arthropod family • Member Holonyms: ↑Lepidoptera, ↑order Lepidoptera • Member Meronyms …   Useful english dictionary

  • Nymphalidae — …   Википедия

  • nymphalidae — nym·phal·i·dae …   English syllables

  • List of butterflies of India (Nymphalidae) — This is a list of the butterflies of India belonging to the family Nymphalidae and an index to the species articles. This forms part of the full list of butterflies of India.Danainae (26 spp)See List of butterflies of India (Danainae).Morphinae… …   Wikipedia

  • family Nymphalidae — noun large beautifully colored butterflies • Syn: ↑Nymphalidae • Hypernyms: ↑arthropod family • Member Holonyms: ↑Lepidoptera, ↑order Lepidoptera • Member Meronyms …   Useful english dictionary

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