Lepidoptera - Etymology

Etymology

The word Lepidoptera comes from the Latin word for "scaly wing", from the Ancient Greek λεπίς (lepis) meaning scale and πτερόν (pteron) meaning wing. Sometimes the term Rhopalocera is used to group the species that are butterflies, derived from the Ancient Greek ῥόπαλον (rhopalon) and κέρας (kæras) meaning "club" and "horn", respectively; coming from the shape of the antennae of butterflies.

The origins of the common names "butterfly"and "moth" are varied and often obscure. The English word butterfly is from Old English buttorfleoge, with many variations in spelling. Other than that, the origin is unknown, although it could be derived from the pale yellow color of many species' wings suggesting the color of butter. The species of Heterocera are commonly called moths. The origins of the English word moth are more clear, deriving from the Old English moððe" (cf. Northumbrian dialect mohðe) from Common Germanic (compare Old Norse motti, Dutch mot and German Motte all meaning "moth"). Perhaps its origins are related to Old English maða meaning "maggot" or from the root of "midge", which until the 16th century was used mostly to indicate the larva, usually in reference to devouring clothes.

The etymological origins of the word "caterpillar", the larval form of butterflies and moths, are from the early 16th century, from Middle English catirpel, catirpeller, probably an alteration of Old North French catepelose: cate, cat (from Latin cattus) + pelose, hairy (from Latin pilōsus).

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