Word of the Day


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Liz Potter
Written by Liz Potter


the study of butterflies

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.

Origin and usage

The noun lepidoptery, meaning the scientific study of butterflies and moths, is surprisingly recent: the first citation recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary dates from 1959. The synonymous term lepidopterology dates from 1899, but the related noun lepidopterist is earlier, being first recorded in 1826. All three derive from the scientific name for moths and butterflies, Lepidoptera, which was coined in 1735 by the Swedish botanist Linnaeus from the Greek words for ‘scale’ and ‘wing’.


We are currently nearing the end of the Big Butterfly Count, an annual event organized by Butterfly Conservation to assess the status of butterflies and moths in the UK. Participants are invited to spend 15 minutes in a sunny location (sometimes a challenge in the UK in summer) logging the different species they see and their numbers, using a chart or app, and then submit their results. These results are recorded on an online map so people can see the numbers and species that have been spotted, and the results of previous surveys are also available. The Count is an example of citizen science and just one of many ways in which the energy and enthusiasm of the general public are being used to further scientific knowledge. Lepidoptery is the scientific study of butterflies and moths and a lepidopterist is someone who does this. Most people taking part in the Big Butterfly Count would not class themselves as  lepidopterists, but their individual contributions are valuable nonetheless.


Literature and butterflies are the two sweetest passions known to man.
(Vladimir Nabokov)

“The wizards were good at wind, weather being a matter not of force but of lepidoptery. As Archchancellor Ridcully said, you just had to know where the damn butterflies were.”
(Terry Pratchett)

I have always had a number of parts lined up in case the muse failed. A lepidopterist exploring famous jungles came first…”
(Vladimir Nabokov)

Related words

caterpillar, larva, cocoon, pupa

Browse related words in the Macmillan Thesaurus.

About the author

Liz Potter

Liz Potter

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