Butterflies of the
Amazon and Andes
Family - NYMPHALIDAE
subfamily - DANAINAE
Tribe - ITHOMIINI
Godyris zavaleta telesilla, Rio Pindayo, 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 Godyris
comprises 14 very attractive species, characterised by their
Godyris zavaleta is
the most widely distributed species in the genus, occurring from
Costa Rica to southern Peru.
Godyris zavaleta telesilla, Satipo, Peru
© Adrian Hoskins
This is a lowland and mid-elevation rainforest species which is
found at altitudes between sea level and about 900m on the eastern
slopes of the Andean foothills and Central American cordilleras.
The eggs are
white and laid singly on the foliage of Solanaceae.
The caterpillars are naked and pale translucent
green in colour, with a shiny yellow head. They feed diurnally on
pupa is also pale translucent green, dotted with black on the wing
cases, and has yellow spiracles. It is squat in shape with a
strongly humped back, and suspended from the underside of leaves.
Godyris zavaleta telesilla, Tingo Maria, Peru
© Adrian Hoskins
The butterfly is widespread but
generally uncommon, and always encountered as singletons. It is
usually seen when disturbed from rest on ferns or the foliage of
sapling trees growing in light gaps in damp areas of the forest
The flight is slow and
fluttery, with the characteristic deep wing-beats of Ithomiines.
The butterflies often
visit the orchid Epidendrum panniculatum
and may be important pollinators.
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.