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Papilio demodocus
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.

A proposed phylogenetic position of the Papilionoidea is as follows:[1]


Papilionoidea (true butterflies)

Hesperiidae (skippers)

Hedylidae (American butterfly moths)

Some authors treat this group as a series Papilioniformes within a single superfamily that also includes the skippers. However not all authors agree that all the butterflies constitute a single clade. The skippers are significantly different from the other butterflies. 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 to pupate in.
  • the pupae are angular rather than rounded.

Families of Papilionoidea[edit]

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.[2]

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 that 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 in fact 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 approximately the early Eocene onwards.


  1. ^ Tree of Life Accessed January 2007
  2. ^ 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.