Butterflies of the
Amazon and Andes
Family - NYMPHALIDAE
subfamily - DANAINAE
Tribe - ITHOMIINI
Oleria phenomoe, Otun-Quimbaya, Colombia ©
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. Ithomiines 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.
There 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.
Most 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.
genus Oleria comprises of about 50
known species, recognisable from the distinctive venation of the
butterflies are varied in their habitat requirements - most species
occur in lowland rainforests, many others specialise in cloudforest
habitats, and a few occur in deciduous forests.
Oleria phenomoe is found in Colombia
This is a
cloudforest species found in shady damp areas in the vicinity of
rivers or streams, at elevations between about 1200-1800m.
In common with all other Ithomiines,
females of Oleria phenomoe normally lay
their eggs directly on the underside of leaves of their foodplants.
The eggs are white, oval, and laid singly, although several may be
dotted about in close proximity by one or more females. The eggs hatch
after about 3 days. When newly hatched the larva is transparent. It
consumes its egg shell before beginning to feed on the foodplant.
After each moult it consumes its shed skin, leaving only the chitinous
head capsule remaining. When fully grown it is grey with a yellow line
along the length of the body on each side. It takes only about 12 days
from hatching to being ready to pupate. The chrysalis is pale green
with shiny metallic golden reflections. The abdominal segments are
compressed, and there is a dorsal hump. The overall impression is of a
small leaf dripping with rain. The butterfly emerges after about a
The lifecycle from
egg to adult takes about 3 weeks to complete, so in theory up to 17
generations could be produced annually. However during the dry
season reproductive activity is minimal. During this period the
adults aggregate with numerous other Ithomiine species in small
pockets within the forest. In Brazil and Ecuador for example I have
found several such aggregations along the beds of small dry streams,
where as many as 100 Ithomiines of up to 10 different species could
be found aestivating among the stilt-like rootlets of palms.
adults are normally found in small 'leks' of up to a dozen
butterflies. The males fly very slowly and almost incessantly around
the lek area, only pausing to settle for a moment here and there, at
which time they slowly fan their wings to aid dissemination of
pheromones from the androconial 'hairs' on their wings.
of most Oleria species visit
Eupatorium, from which they acquire
pyrrolizidine alkaloids which they pass to the females during
copulation, and which is believed to be essential for the production
of viable eggs.
Females visit various
flowers for nectar and pollen - the latter may be essential in the
production of eggs and the maintenance of ovaries, as has been
demonstrated to be the case with Heliconiines. Females also receive
proteins during sperm transfer.
Gravid females fly very slowly,
periodically dipping down to investigate Solanum
plants. Having found the foodplant they then spend 2 or 3 minutes
testing it, using olfactory sensors on their legs, antennae and
abdomens, to determine if it is the correct species on which to
In common with most other
Ithomiines, lateral and altitudinal migrations of
Oleria species are triggered by seasonal
changes in humidity.