the Amazon and Andes
Family - NYMPHALIDAE
subfamily - DANAINAE
Tribe - ITHOMIINI
harmonia hermias, Satipo, Peru ©
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.
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
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
Tithorea are large butterflies. They
often fly in sunny glades where they can easily be confused with
Heliconius species such as
numata or hecale.
The easiest way to distinguish Tithorea
from their mimics is to examine the antennae and legs.
are very gradually tapered, cream in colour, and drooping. In
Pieridae they are parallel along the stalk, with a
strongly clubbed tip, while in Papilionidae the tip is clubbed and
recurved. Ithomiines, Heliconiines and Nymphalines have only 2
pairs of functioning legs. In the Ithomiines these are long,
giving the impression of a butterfly on stilts. Papilionidae and
Pieridae have 3 pairs of functioning legs.
harmonia is one of
the commonest and most widespread of the toxic "tiger" species, being
Mexico to the southern Amazon. There are 26 named subspecies.
harmonia hermias, Satipo, Peru ©
This species is found in sub-tropical deciduous forest as well as in evergreen
rainforest habitats. It occurs at altitudes between 0-1300m.
feed on Prestonia acutifolia ( Apocynaceae ). These
foodplants contain toxins that are ingested by the larvae and
passed on to the adult butterflies, rendering them
highly distasteful to birds. Other Ithomiines are also noxious to birds, but
obtain the toxic pyrrolizidine alkaloids found in the adult butterflies are sequestered by
the adults from nectar or plant exudates rather than being sequestered in the
I do not have any descriptions of the early
stages of harmonia, but they are likely to be similar to those of the closely related species
T. tarricina. The larva of the latter is pale green with dark bands around the segments, and has two long
filaments arising from the first thoracic segment. The pupa of
is silvery and resembles a large water droplet.
harmonia hermias, Madre de
Dios, Peru ©
Tithorea harmonia is usually
encountered singly, but at the Alto Rio Madre de Dios in Peru I
over 20 flying together, possibly the result of a spontaneous mass
In sunny weather the
adults tend to be secretive, flying in light gaps in the
understorey. In cloudy conditions however, or at the approach of dusk,
they emerge into more open areas along the edges of streams or
wide forest tracks. There they can be seen fluttering amongst
herbage, or settled on low foliage, slowly fanning their wings.
Males are commonly attracted to
bird droppings, from which they sequester pyrrolizidine alkaloids.
These chemicals serve multiple purposes -
they increase the toxicity of the butterfly rendering it
unpalatable to birds,
they are essential in the production of
and they are transferred to the female during copulation thereby
increasing her longevity and fertility. Males often visit the same
bird dropping on 3 or 4 successive days.
Both sexes visit flowers including
and Chomelia. They
share with Heliconiines the habit of spending long periods
nectaring at individual blooms, and habitually return to the same
flower over a period of days.
In dry weather
the adults roost openly on foliage in the understorey, but
during rainy spells they hide amongst the rootlets of palms.
At the end of the dry season
they and other Ithomiines tend to gather at the last remaining sources of moisture
within the forest, such as dry river beds, marshy areas or muddy pools.