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Butterflies of the Amazon and Andes
Highton's Hairstreak
Meridaria hightoni BALINT, 2014
Family - LYCAENIDAE
subfamily - THECLINAE
Tribe - EUMAEINI
Meridaria hightoni (or sister species), eastern Andes, 2000m, Peru © Adrian Hoskins
Introduction
Almost all neotropical Theclinae species are placed in the Eumaeini. The tribe is not particularly well represented in collections, so until fairly recently a high percentage remained unstudied, and were inappropriately filed away in the 'convenience' genus Thecla. Many taxonomists have attempted to rationalise the systematics of the Eumaeini, the most recent being Robbins who published a revision in 2004, reclassifying the taxa into 83 genera. Currently there are 1063 known species. Taking into account their small size, secretive behaviour, and the great similarities between many species, it is estimated that about another 200 species probably remain to be discovered.
For several years, the butterfly illustrated here remained a mystery. It did not correspond with any taxon illustrated in d'Abrera or any taxonomic revision that I examined, and in the absence of a voucher specimen it was not possible to determine the genus by genitalic examination or DNA analysis. Consultation with several leading authorities on the Eumaeini however produced a tentative determination:
The image of the Rio Kosnipata insect was first examined by Faynel who considers that 'the ventral wing pattern of the Peruvian specimen looks like a Parrhasius or Thepytus species, but the double androconia (scent pad + scent patch) on the dorsal FW of Balint’s specimen refute this hypothesis and suggest a generic placement in either Exorbaetta, Gargina, Siderus or Theclopsis'.
However, Robbins stated that, in the absence of a specimen it was 'unwise to make a guess at the generic affinity of the Peruvian specimen, as similar verso patterns have evolved independently several times in Andean theclines'.
Balint examined a visually identical specimen from Venezuela and orginally suggested it should be placed in Siderus. However, after further examination he erected a new genus Meridaria and named the Venezuelan species as hightoni, after the collector who discovered it. Balint considers that the Peruvian insect depicted above may be a sister species of hightoni.
My thanks go to Zsolt Bálint, Christophe Faynel and Bob Robbins for their valued comments.

Meridaria hightoni, Venezuela

Meridaria hightoni, Venezuela

photos: Alan Highton, used by permission of Zsolt Bálint

Habitats
The Peruvian individual was photographed at an elevation of about 1800-2000m, in cloudforest at Rio Kosnipata. This probably represents the upper elevational limit for the butterfly, as hairstreak diversity decreases rapidly above about 1800m. The Venezuelan specimen was captured by Alan Highton at an elevation of 1400m at San Isidro in Venezuela.
Lifecycle
Unknown.
Adult behaviour

This seems to be a canopy species which descends to take nectar along roadsides.

 

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