the Amazon and Andes
Common Blue Morpho
Family - NYMPHALIDAE
Tribe - MORPHINI
Satipo, 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 Morpho".
There are in fact at least 29 described species, possibly more, as the status of some
contended by certain taxonomists who consider they should be elevated to the
rank of full species.
literature tends to list up to 80 species, but more recent phylogenetic research
indicates that many of these are subspecies or forms. The former "species"
for example are amongst the 30 taxa now listed by Lamas ( 2004 ) as subspecies
Catarata Bayoz, La Merced, Peru ©
Morpho helenor and it's close relative
achilles are recognised by the broad vertical bands of brilliant blue on their uppersides,
and by the distinctive white, black, yellow and red concentric rings which form
the ocelli on their olive-brown underside hindwings. The size of these ocelli, and the width
of the blue bands on the upperside, varies considerably.
Andrew Neild ( author of Butterflies of Venezuela )
describes the differences between
thus : "In
the submarginal whitish band on the
underside hindwing widens towards the apex and
is usually widest at the apex; in
it narrows towards the apex, and is usually wider / widest in
its mid section. Also, but not always, on the
FW, in space 3 (
the one that usually has the
biggest FW ocellus ), the broad pale band is almost always
it is usually triangular, or if nearly crescent-shaped,
wider than it is in sympatric
Satipo, Peru ©
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.
helenor is a
widespread and common species found throughout the neotropical region from Mexico to
This species is adapted to breed in a wide variety of forested habitats,
occurring for example in the dry deciduous woodlands at sea level in Guanacaste
( Costa Rica ) as well as in wet tropical forests and Andean
cloudforest at altitudes of up to about 1800m.
The domed egg is pale
green with a narrow reddish ring near the top. It is laid singly on leaves of
fully grown larva is plump, with a large head. The body is 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. It feeds on
Pterocarpus and Dalbergia
- all trees in the family Fabaceae.
Morpho larvae have eversible glands on the thorax which emit a
strong odour as a defence against predators. The pupa is pale green and bulbous, with a short and sturdy peduncle, suspended
from a stem.
zigzag flight of this saucer-sized butterfly is unmistakeable. Males
patrol back and forth along the courses of streams in the dappled
sunlight of their forest habitats. They are most active in the
mornings, and spend the afternoons mud-puddling, feeding at
rotting fruit or at sap runs or sitting motionless on foliage in light gaps.
Females are recognised by the wider dark borders on the uppersides.
seen far less often, usually only in late morning when they
fly along trails, resting regularly amongst vegetation.
Both 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.