Heliconius doris

Today I’m showing some images of exotic butterflies from the Magic Wings Butterfly house in Durham, North Carolina. It’s really a great place to capture images of nature’s jewels, both for yourself and to share with friends. Beyond that, you can also learn something about their lifestyle and habitat.  It’s a great way to further your understanding of nature, always a good thing.

Now on to the images.

This little beauty is known as Doris, or Heliconius doris to be more specific. They belong to a group commonly known as Longwings. This group is only found in the Neotropics, from southern Mexico all the way to the South American forests.

Doris comes in several color morphs, all have the cream colored spots on a black ground, but the color radiating from the base of the hindwing may be blue, red or orange, and occasionally a dark cream. There in one form that lives in Brazil where the hindwing is almost completely black.

In the wild, they favor open forest clearings with dappled light. Like many other butterflies, Doris gets moisture from damp rocks or mud. Lantana is a favorite source of nectar, females also get pollen from psychotia and psiguria flowers. The pollen provides proteins that help to keep the females producing eggs for an extended period of time.

Like many Longwings, Doris is a graceful in flight, beautiful to watch as they fly from shade into the sunlight, always on the lookout for nectar.

Gray Owl Butterfly

Owl butterflies are one of the most interesting genera. Also one of the oldest butterfly families. There are 21 species in the group, all of which are crepuscular, meaning they prefer to fly in the early morning or evening dusk. When they fly during the day, it’s most often in the more shaded parts of the forest.

They can feed on nectar, but their preferred food is fermenting fruit. Bananas are common within their range, which includes most of Central America and the northern parts of South America.

There are several theories about the eye spots on the wings. It was originally thought that the sports resembled the eyes of an owl, hence the common name. But these butterflies spend a good part of the day resting on tree trunks or branches with their wings folded, so they don’t look like owls at all. It could be that the eye spots actually function as a target. Predators see the high contrast spot and strike the outer edge of the wing instead of the body. So the eye spot is really more like a decoy.

Since Caligo butterflies are large, often their wingspans are 12 to 15 centimeters (5-6 inches) or more, their flight is slow. They often only fly a few meters (yards) at a time. That makes it easy for birds and other predators to track them. Creating an alternate target with an eye spot well away from their body is a logical defense mechanism.

When viewed from above, some species have blue or gray blue areas on the upper surface of the wings. So they can change from camouflaged to little jewels just by opening their wings. Amazing.

Birdwing butterfly

Now for a trip to the opposite side of the world. This large and stunning butterfly is Troides vandepolli. This species is a member of the Papilionidae family, one of the most ancient groups of butterflies. They are widespread in temperate and tropical regions. Troides is found in Malaysia, Java, Borneo and the very northern rainforests of Australia. The family is also known as Swallowtails, so they are related to many of the swallowtail butterflies common in the United States, including Eastern and Giant Tiger swallowtails found along the east coast.

The Troides are also known as Birdwings. When you see one in real life, it’s easy to understand why, they are just spectacular.

They can be as large as 16-17 centimeters in wingspan, or more than 6 inches, and they are strong fliers. In much of their natural range they are a protected species.

There is also some sexual dimorphism. The females tend to be have brown to dark brown wings, and the colored area on the hind wings is not as vibrant. The males are usually black with some lighter outlining on the veins. The golden yellow patch of color on the hind wings is vibrant and luminous. It’s an interesting comparison to the US Tiger swallowtails, where the black morphs are always female. In Tiger swallowtails both males and females can be yellow, and both are equally bright.

There are many butterfly conservatories in the US where all the species mentioned here can be seen. It’s a magical trip. Take your camera.

Quote of the Day
“Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted.”
Albert Einstein

Links

Butterfly House in Durham, North Carolina

Butterflies at the Missouri Botanical Garden

Butterflies at the Florida Museum of Natural History