Lepidoptera ( lep-i-DOP-tər-ə) is an order of insects that includes butterflies and moths (both are called lepidopterans). About 180,000 species of the Lepidoptera are described, in 126 families and 46 superfamilies, 10 per cent of the total described species of living organisms. It is one of the most widespread and widely recognizable insect orders in the world. The Lepidoptera show many variations of the basic body structure that have evolved to gain advantages in lifestyle and distribution. Recent estimates suggest the order may have more species than earlier thought, and is among the four most speciose orders, along with the Hymenoptera, Diptera, and Coleoptera. Lepidopteran species are characterized by more than three derived features, some of the most apparent being the scales covering their bodies and wings, and a proboscis. The scales are modified, flattened "hairs", and give butterflies and moths their extraordinary variety of colors and patterns. Almost all species have some form of membranous wings, except for a few that have reduced wings or are wingless. Like most other insects, butterflies and moths are holometabolous, meaning they undergo complete metamorphosis. Mating and the laying of eggs are carried out by adults, normally near or on host plants for the larvae.
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