Mexico, USA & Canada
Common Blue Morpho
Family - NYMPHALIDAE
subfamily - MORPHINAE
Tribe - MORPHINI
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 certain taxonomists
who consider they should be elevated to the rank of full species.
Older 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" achillaena,
peleides for example are amongst the 30 taxa now listed by
Lamas ( 2004 ) as subspecies of helenor.
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.
Morpho helenor is
found throughout the neotropical region from Mexico to Bolivia.
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 the foodplants.
The 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
Dalbergia - all trees in the family
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.
are recognised by the wider dark borders on the uppersides. They are
seen far less often, usually only in late morning when they fly along
trails, resting regularly amongst vegetation.
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.
helenor © Adrian