Butterflies of the
Amazon and Andes
Callithomia lenea CRAMER,
Family - NYMPHALIDAE
subfamily - DANAINAE
Tribe - ITHOMIINI
subtribe - DIRCENNINA
Rio Alto Madre de Dios, Peru
© Adrian Hoskins
The Ithomiini comprises of 376 known species,
although it is likely that at least another 30 will be discovered in
the near future. All are confined to the neotropical region.
are unpalatable to birds, and are consequently mimicked in
appearance by many other species. These include other unpalatable
species ( Müllerian mimics ), not only from the Ithomiinae but also
from several other butterfly families. There are also a large number
of edible species ( Batesian mimics ) which have evolved similar
patterns. Birds have the ability to memorise butterfly patterns and
so learn to avoid eating noxious species, but are also fooled into
ignoring similarly marked edible species.
characterised by having small eyes, slender abdomens and long
drooping antennae that lack distinct clubs. Males have a plume of
long androconial scales or "hair pencils" on the costa of their
hindwings. These are hidden from view when the butterflies are at
rest, but are displayed when the wings are held open during
courtship. Other Ithomiine characteristics include a very slow and
deep wing beat, and a preference for inhabiting the darkest recesses
of the forest understorey.
are basically 2 types of Ithomiine. The first type are the black and
orange-banded "tigers", many of which are mimicked by other species
due to their unpalatability to birds. The second type are the
"glasswings", recognised by their transparent or translucent wings,
prominent veins, and orange wing margins. Many genera contain
examples of both of these types, and in some cases an individual
species may produce adults of both forms according to location.
novices find the Ithomiini very difficult to identify. Using only
the patterns to identify species is very unreliable because there
are so many similar species. Also many species produce a variety of
different colour forms according to locality and season. The best
approach therefore is to use the hindwing venation and other
anatomical features to identify the genus, and to then look at the
wing patterns to short-list the likely species.
The genus Callithomia
includes only 3 species, of which alexirrhoe
and hezia fall loosely into the
tiger pattern category, being marked with cream and orange on a
black ground colour.
The species featured here,
Callithomia lenea falls into the glasswing group and is
marked similarly to Methona or
Thyridia but is much smaller than either, and easily
recognised due to the greenish translucency of the wings, and the
orange costal streak. It is a member of an assumed Mullerian
"mimicry ring" known as the confusa
complex, involving Thyridia psidii,
Methona curvifascia, M. confusa
( Ithomiinae ), Lycorea ilione phenarete
( Danaini ) and
various Tiger moths such as Chetone
heliconioides ( Arctiidae : Pericopiinae ).
is found from Panama to Bolivia.
This is a lowland and mid-elevation rainforest species found at
altitudes between sea level and about 1000m on the eastern slopes of
the Andean foothills.
I can find no
published information on lenea. DeVries
states that Callithomia alexirrhoe
oviposits on an unidentified sub-canopy woody vine in Costa Rica.
Haber gives the larval foodplant of the same species as
Solanum sanctae-clarae. It is therefore
reasonable to assume that lenea
caterpillars also feed on Solanaceae.
is widespread and fairly common but is nearly always encountered
singly. Both sexes visit Lantana,
Eupatorium, Hamelia and
Psiguria flowers at dawn in forest edge
habitats. Solitary males are commonly encountered after being
disturbed from rest on the foliage of sapling trees in light gaps in
damp areas of the forest understorey.
sequester pyrrolizidine alkaloids from
Myosotis ( Boraginaceae ),
Neomiranda and Senecio (
Asteraceae ). These chemicals confer toxic qualities to the
butterflies which deter bird attacks. The chemicals are also used in
the production of pheromones. Often the males of several Ithomiine
species will gather together at communal leks, where they release
these pheromones from hair-like androconial scales on the leading edge
of their upperside hindwings. These attract more males, which in turn
release further pheromones. After a few days the lek may include 50 or
more adults comprised of as many as dozen different species. Passing
females are attracted to the leks by the complex fragrances. Their
presence stimulates the males to open their wings and release further
pheromones that entice them into copulation. Females obtain sustenance
from nectar, and also visit bird droppings which provide them with a
source of nitrogen that assists with the development of their eggs.