The Amazon Rainforest contains two and a half million species of insects. Some of them belong to the beautiful and large order of insects, the Lepidoptera, which includes butterflies and moths.
Butterflies have three stages of development from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis. Many of the caterpillars in the forest are poisonous or have hairs which can cause intense irritation. See the second stage here in this poisonous caterpillar.
The body of the butterfly is divided into three parts..the head, the thorax and the abdomen. The legs and wings are attached to the central area, the thorax.
The most noticeable thing on their heads are the large eyes…clearly seen in the female Morpho photo.
Male Morphos (Morpho menelaus ) have iridescent, laminated wings of a rich turquoise blue, sometimes edged with black. They are stunning, large, butterflies which seem to float on air. They are breathtakingly beautiful.
The female Morpho is dull in comparison, but with a certain charm and incredible eyes.
These butterflies sip juices from rotting fruit.
Butterflies feed on flowers and each species favours particular flowers. The Heliconius feed on various kinds of Passion flowers which makes them mildly poisonous to predators. The bright colouring of their wings sends out a visual warning that they will be unpleasant to taste. Some other nontoxic butterflies mimic the colouring of the Heliconius for protection.
The Zebra Heliconius (Heliconius charitonius) is black with cream or white stripes. They eat pollen and sip nectar from passionflower plants.
I cut a piece of water melon, which they were partial too, just so I could watch them.
The Postman butterflies (Heliconius melpomene-also known as Longwings) are black with striking red markings, again to warn predators off. They feed on nectar and also pollen from Lantana or verbena, Hamelia and Palicouria. This one was attracted to the plastic container in which I put decaying food used for mulching plants.
Owl butterflies (Caligo memnon),so named for the large eye-like markings on their wings, use a different method of protection from predators, who seem to find the eyes on their wings confusing and off putting. They may also use the ‘eyes’ to draw away attacks to their heads.
Owl butterflies feed on Heliconia and Musa (includes bananas). Their main predators are small lizards.
Fluttering under the house in the late afternoons, they had to avoid the large Tegu and small Ameiva lizards that lived there.
A fascinating fact: The Passion flower plant uses mimicry to deter predators, just as some butterflies do. Butterflies will only lay their eggs on clear, pristine leaves, free from another females eggs, to give their caterpillars a good start in life. The Passion flower, to deter this and prevent all its leaves being eaten, produces mock eggs on its leaves and stems.