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Title: Papilionoidea  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Comparison of butterflies and moths, Riodinidae, Butterfly, Swallowtail butterfly, Evolution of butterflies
Collection: Butterflies, Lepidoptera Superfamilies
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


Top left: Delias eucharis

Top right: Calinaga buddha
Below left: Myscelia cyaniris
Below right: Episcada apuleia

Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Lepidoptera
Suborder: Ditrysia
(unranked): Rhopalocera
Superfamily: Papilionoidea
Latreille, 1802

The superfamily Papilionoidea (from the genus Papilio, meaning "butterfly") contains all the butterflies except for the skippers, which are classified in superfamily Hesperioidea, and the moth-like Hedyloidea.

The members of the Papilionoidea may be distinguished by the following combination of characters:

  • The body is smaller and less moth-like.
  • The wings are larger.
  • The antennae are straight and clubbed (rather than hooked as in the skippers).
  • The caterpillars do not spin cocoons in which to pupate.
  • The pupae are angular rather than rounded.

Recent phylogenetic analyses suggest the traditionally circumscribed Papilionoidea are a paraphyletic group, and that skippers and hedylids are true butterflies that should be included within the Papilionoidea superfamily to reflect cladistic relationships.[1][2]

Families of Papilionoidea

The five well-supported families of Papilionoidea are:

Of the subfamilies of Nymphalidae, only the Morphinae and Satyrinae are possibly paraphyletic, but these two subfamilies form a strongly supported clade with the Charaxinae as sister group.[3]

The fossil genus Lithopsyche is apparently a Papilionoidea incertae sedis, which has long been mistaken for a geometer moth of the Boarmiini. It is variously placed in the Lycaenidae or Riodinidae. A similar fossil, Lithodryas, is more firmly assigned to the Lycaenidae, but might belong to the Nymphalidae. Riodinella, yet another prehistoric genus, also seems to belong here, but its relationships are quite obscure, indeed. However, these fossils – all found in Eocene deposits dating roughly between 50 and 25 million years ago – suggest the radiation of the Papilionoidea into the present-day families took place during that epoch. Prodryas, from the end of the Eocene, can be quite robustly assigned to the Nymphalidae, and is quite likely a member of the Nymphalini. Oligocene fossils of Papilionoidea are usually assignable to an extant family without problems.

Taken together, these fossils place the origin of the Papilionoidea in the latest Mesozoic or early Paleogene, while the extant families emerged around the early Eocene onwards.


  1. ^ Heikkilä, M., Kaila, L., Mutanen, M., Peña, C., & Wahlberg, N. (2012). Cretaceous origin and repeated tertiary diversification of the redefined butterflies. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 279(1731), 1093-1099.
  2. ^ Kawahara, A. Y., & Breinholt, J. W. (2014). Phylogenomics provides strong evidence for relationships of butterflies and moths. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 281(1788), 20140970.
  3. ^ Gerardo Lamas (2008) Systematics of butterflies (Lepidoptera: Hesperioidea and Papilionoidea) in the world: current state and future perspectives (in Spanish). In: Jorge Llorente-Bousquets and Analía Lanteri (eds.) Contribuiciones taxonómicas en ordens de insectos hiperdiversos. Mexico City: UNAM. Pp. 57-70.
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