Butterflies of the
Amazon and Andes
Family - NYMPHALIDAE
subfamily - MORPHINAE
Tribe - MORPHINI
subtribe - MORPHINA
Maria, Peru ©
It is a source of amusement to lepidopterists that the general
public in Latin America always refer to every one of the
Morpho species as if they were just one creature - "the Blue
There are in fact at least 29 described species, possibly more, as
the status of some subspecies is contended by some taxonomists who
consider they should be elevated to the rank of full species.
The dazzling blue wings of
Morpho butterflies are enormous relative to their body size,
resulting in a very distinctive slow, bouncy flight pattern. The
effect is that the brilliant blue upperside appears to flash like a
beacon as it alternates in flight with the dark undersurface. This
makes it difficult for a bird to follow the flight. If attacked when
on the wing, the slow lazy flight pattern instantly changes into a
wild swooping evasive manoeuvre, following which the butterfly dives
into the forest where it instantly settles. A pursuing bird is still
of course searching for a brilliant blue insect, but the
Morpho snaps it's wings shut,
displaying the dark brown underside and foiling the bird's search
program. If the bird does manage to spot the settled butterfly it
invariably aims its attack at the most prominent feature - in this
case the ocelli, missing the body entirely and allowing the
butterfly to escape.
dazzling blue colour of Morpho
butterflies is impossible to convey in a photograph. The words used
by DeVries to describe Morpho
cypris are very apt : "The sight of
this sailing blue orb against a rainforest background is truly one
of the most stunningly beautiful in the neotropics". The legendary
naturalist Henry Walter Bates described the shimmering blue hues of
the Morpho equally well: "When it comes
sailing along it occasionally flaps its wings and then the blue
surface flashes in the sunlight so that it is visible a quarter of a
Morpho deidamia is a
widespread but uncommon species found throughout the neotropical
region from Nicaragua to Bolivia.
This species is adapted to breed in a wide variety of forested
habitats, occurring for example in the dry deciduous woodlands of
Nicaragua, but is far more often encountered in primary rainforest.
It is found at altitudes between 0-1400m.
I have no
data specific to deidamia. The eggs of
most other Morpho species
are dome-shaped and
pale green with a narrow reddish ring near the top. Most Morphos lay
apparently their eggs singly but several
Morpho species have gregarious larvae, strongly suggesting
that their eggs are laid in clusters. Fully
grown larvae are plump, with a large head. Their bodies are
beautifully patterned with fine longitudinal lines of bright red,
yellow and black, and covered with fine brown hairs which are tufted
near the head and tail, and in the middle of the back. Morpho larvae
feed on the leaves of a wide range of trees in the family Fabaceae
Swartzia and Dalbergia.
larvae have eversible glands on the thorax which emit a strong odour
as a defence against predators. The pupae are pale green and
bulbous, and are suspended from a stem or leaf of the foodplant.
back and forth along the courses of streams and rivers in the dappled
sunlight of their forest habitats. On sunny and warm afternoons they
can sometimes be found imbibing mineralised moisture from damp sand,
or from urine-tainted ground. If disturbed they tend to fly a short
distance and settle among the foliage of a nearby tree or bush, but
will often return to feed after they sense the danger has passed.
seen far less frequently.
sexes close their wings immediately upon landing, but periodically
flick them open to give the briefest glimpse of the dazzling blue
upperside. This behaviour is most pronounced in mud-puddling males,
which repeatedly flicker their wings as they hop about on the ground
seeking dissolved minerals.