Butterflies of the
Amazon and Andes
Ithomeis aurantiaca BATES,
Family - RIODINIDAE
subfamily - RIODININAE
Tribe - RIODININI
Ithomeis aurantiaca heliconina, Rio Onolulo, Tingo Maria,
© Adrian Hoskins
There are 2 species in the genus
eulema from Central America, and
aurantiaca from South America.
There are many species which share the
Ithomeis pattern of black, orange and large translucent
areas. These include many toxic genera from the Ithomiinae (
etc ), and a number of toxic moths from the family Arctiidae.
Additionally there are several other Riodinid genera that contain
species with a similar colour theme - e.g.
Stalachtis, Ithomiola and
Ithomeis aurantiaca produces several
subspecies, many of which were formerly regarded as full species,
but have since been relegated. These include
satellites and astrea, both of
which are very similar to the illustrated
heliconina. Other subspecies include
mimica and stalachtina, both of
which have greatly reduced hyaline areas, and extensive orange
markings - these subspecies bear a strong resemblance to toxic
Ithomiines in the genera Pseudoscada,
Hypoleria. A single widely distributed species such as
Ithomeis aurantiaca can produce several
subspecies, each markedly different in appearance, and each
mimicking a particular toxic Ithomiine species that occurs within
the same area.
On his adventures
in Amazonia the legendary explorer and naturalist Henry Walter Bates
became fascinated by this genus, and by the amazing similarities
between various other butterfly species. He realised
which are unpalateable to insectivorous birds are very often
mimicked by similarly patterned palatable species. In
1862 he published the famous paper describing his theory, which is
now commonly known as Batesian mimicry.
Ithomeis aurantiaca is distributed from
Panama to Bolivia. The subspecies heliconina
is confined to eastern Peru and the southern Amazonian ( Mato Grosso
) region of Brazil.
This butterfly is found in cloudforest habitats at altitudes between
about 800-1500m. It is a highly localised species and rarely seen.
The eggs are
pink, and laid in clusters of between 40-50 on the upperside of
leaves. The larval foodplant is Heisteria
( Olacaceae ).
The adults are
elusive, and usually encountered singly, in the vicinity of rivers or
streams. At Rio Onolulo in Tingo Maria national park, Peru, I
photographed the male shown on this page, and noted that it spent a
considerable amount of time imbibing moisture from mossy rock faces
and boulders. While feeding, the wings were slowly fanned; and when
the insect took flight it fluttered its wings slowly, in a manner
similar to that of Ithomiines. It seemed unperturbed by repeated
disturbance by 4 keen photographers, and if molested always returned
within a few seconds to resume feeding.
Ithomeis aurantiaca heliconina, Rio Onolulo, Tingo Maria, Peru
© Adrian Hoskins