Butterflies of the
Amazon and Andes
Family - NYMPHALIDAE
subfamily - DANAINAE
Tribe - ITHOMIINI
Rio 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.
There are 8 species
in the genus Hyposcada. Males can be
distinguished from other genera by the presence of a short narrow
strip of androconia along the lower edge of the forewing.
is found from Colombia to Bolivia.
The butterfly occurs in lowland rainforest at altitudes between
about 100-1100 metres.
The only recorded information about the early stages of this genus
is that Hyposcada virginiana was
claimed by Haber to oviposit on Columnea
and Drymonia ( Gesneriaceae ). This
seems questionable however as the use of plants in this family is
very unusual for any Lepidoptera, and not known in any other
Hyposcada illinissa is usually seen
singly or in small groups. The butterflies spend a lot of their time
sitting motionless on the foliage of saplings and bushes at a height
of about 2m above ground level, but can sometimes be seen in light
gaps, fluttering around fallen petals on the forest floor.
In Peru at Rio Alto Madre de Dios
example I watched a male feeding on fallen petals on the forest floor.
It was oblivious of my presence but when deliberately disturbed it
flew up to settle on the foliage of a sapling. Minutes later it
returned to resume feeding at the petals. It was unclear whether it
was obtaining nectar, or sequestering
pyrrolizidine alkaloids, a behaviour that DeVries states is unknown in