Archive for the ‘Blue-gray Satyr’ Tag

Butterflies of Matapalo   2 comments


Philip Davison Nature Diaries. Bosque del Cabo Rain Forest Lodge.

Life as Normal

Last week we had the continuing alternation of sun and rain.  The frogs are still out in force, in fact several new species have joined the nightly chorus of amorous males.  The significant newcomer that has appeared in ever increasing numbers has been the Mexican White-lipped Frog, (Leptodactylus fragilis).  This species typically calls from the damp ditches very close to the pond but it is heard more often than it is seen.

Butterflies Abound

The clement weather conditions have allowed the late start to the butterfly season to persist until later in the year.  Last week there were some very bright, sunny, clear blue skies which is always good for butterfly watchers, particularly if the nectar producing plants are in flower.  The butterflies did not disappoint and came out in force.

Many of the bright, gaudy butterflies seen flying around the grounds belong to the family Nymphalidae.  This family of butterflies is found all over the world except Antarctic.  They are known as brush-foot butterflies due to the front two legs being reduced in size and covered with hairs.

The bright sunny conditions make it problematic to take pictures of the butterflies because of the high light levels and the fact that they are very active.  A flowering nectar plant provides the best opportunity in these situations as you can pick one blossom and invariably it will be visited by a succession of individuals.  In one of the tropical gardens a blooming Lantana camara was providing that opportunity.

Two fast flying vivid orange butterflies, the Gulf Fritillary, (Agraulis vanillae), and the Iulia Longwing, (Dryas iulia), settled momentarily.  They are both members of the subfamily: Heliconiinae.  The Heliconiinae, except for a few species, are confined to the Neotropics where they proliferate in diversity.   The caterpillars of this subfamily typically feed on passion vine and hence are commonly known as passion vine butterflies.

Agraulis vanillae. Nymphalidae. Heliconiinae.

Gulf Fritillary

The leaves of the passion vine larval foodplant contain cyanide in the form of a cyanogenic glycoside.  The caterpillars have an enzyme that allow them to sequester the cyanide molecule which serves to protect them from being eaten.

Dryas iulia. Nymphalidae. Heliconiinae.

Iulia Longwing

Another related butterfly landed close by, the Zebra Longwing, (Heliconius charitonius).  I have been trying to take a decent photograph of this butterfly for some time but it just will not stay still.  I managed to get an image but not the best.  Two more heliconiids were flitting from flower to flower, the Postman, (Heliconius erato), and the Hecale Longwing, (Heliconius hecale).

Heliconius charitonius. Nymphalidae. Heliconiinae.

Zebra Longwing, (Heliconius charitonius)

The adult heliconiids, just as the larval stage, use chemical defenses in the form of cyanide.  The adults feed not only on nectar but also pollen.  Pollen is nitrogen-rich and this allows the adult butterflies to produce cyanide which is stored in the body.  Having a chemical defense is not effective if the predators are unaware of it.  To that effect the heliconiid adults advertise themselves using brightly colors, the color groupings of which the predators quickly learn to associate with a foul-tasting meal which they will ignore in the future.  This is known as aposematic, or warning, coloration.

Heliconius erato. Nymphalidae. Heliconiinae

Postman, (Heliconius erato)

But that aposematic coloration lends itself very well to two forms of mimicry.  Non-poisonous butterflies mimic poisonous butterflies which is known as Batesian mimicry.  Also, many poisonous butterflies are co-mimics of one another in a series of mimicry complexes known as Mullerian mimicry.  Mimicry really does work and quite often it takes a stationary butterfly and a trained eye to distinguish one species from another.

Heliconius hecale. Nymphalidae. Heliconiinae.

Hecale Longwing, (Heliconius hecale)

One other nymphalid that was flying around the Lantana was a small Theona Checkerspot, (Chosyne theona).  These butterflies tend to have bold orange and yellow markings on a black background earning them the name checkerspots.  Many of the checkerspots exhibit variations largely due to environmentally sensitive temperature changes.  Just as their heliconiid cousins, they would appear to be distasteful to birds which will avoid feeding on them.  I quite often see them in open areas flying very close to the ground.

Chlosyne theona. Nymphalidae. Nymphalinae.

Theona Checkerspot, (Chlosyne theona)

The forest too provided a couple more nymphalids, the Blue-grey Satyr, (Magneuptychia libye), on the ground and the Sunset Daggerwing, (Marpesia furcula), higher up in the vegetation.  The Sunset Daggerwing was a species that I really wanted a good photograph of as it is quite exquisitely colored.  The males are the most striking but this was a female.  After watching it fly back and forth along the vegetation bordering the path it finally settled beneath a leaf only six feet off the ground which gave me the opportunity to get the picture.  Fortunately it opened its wings several times which enabled me to capture the dorsal and ventral surfaces of the wings.

Magneuptychia libye. Nymphalidae. Satyrinae.

Blue-gray Satyr, (Magneuptychia libye)

Marpesia furcula. Nymphalidae. Biblidinae.

Sunset Daggerwing, (Marpesia furcula)

Sunset Daggerwing. Philip Davison. Felipe del Bosque.

Sunset Daggerwing, (Marpesia furcula)

One final forest butterfly that settled in a position not too far above my head was a cattleheart in the genus Parides.  These are not the easiest of butterflies to identify in the field, especially in subdued lighting and with the wings closed.  They are all a deep velvety black with the markings on the upper surface of the wings being yellow bars and red spots.  It is these markings that help identify them to species level but even these features can be variable and confusing.  I am almost sure that this was a male Wedge-spotted Cattleheart, Parides lycimenes, but not 100% sure.

Parides lycimenes. Papilionidae. Papilioninae.

Wedge-spotted Cattleheart, (Parides lycimenes)

Philip Davison Is a Biologist, Writer and Photographer Based in Costa Rica

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