Happy Friday, Lepidopteraphiles (butterfly fans)!!! It’s time for us to “phile” away another edition of Friday Flyers. We hope you’re having a great Friday. It seems like we just can’t get rid of the snow. So we’ll try to do our part by telling you about some of our favorite jungle butterflies. In our 26th edition of Friday Flyers we told you about two of the most beautiful South American butterflies, Batesia hypochlora and Panacea divalis. Today we’re going to follow this theme and introduce you to two more small groups of spectacular South American butterflies, Catonephele butterflies and Nessaea butterflies. Both of these groups are part of the Nymphalid family, each with a relative handful of species. Today we’ll show you why they are some of our favorites.
Catonephele butterflies are on the smaller end of medium sized butterflies with wingspans usually in the 2 to 3 inch range. Catonepheles are extremely dimorphic (having 2 forms). It’s almost impossible to imagine how Entomologists first made the connection that the males and females are related. Usually in these cases, it either happens because you’re lucky enough to find a mating pair of butterflies, or it happens from raising caterpillars and having both adults hatch. In any case, the males and females couldn’t be farther apart in appearance. The males are by far the most striking. Regardless of the particular species, all of the males are jet black with neon orange spots or bands. When we say jet black, we mean so black that no light reflects off its surface. This black is contrasted by the brightest most neon orange you can imagine. The ventral (undersides) of the wings are more muted in color with various shades of browns and yellows in a camouflage pattern. The female Catonepheles are somewhat less colorful, being basically chocolate brown with rows of yellowish-cream colored spots. The female ventrals are also cryptically patterned.
Catonephele butterflies are rainforest dwellers, but they will frequently fly out into clearings in the forest to feed or to bask in the sun. We have usually seen them resting on leaves on the outer edges of the rainforest, where roads or fields have created a break in the forest. Also Catonepheles typically prefer to fly and rest near the ground usually below 5 feet in altitude. They do not like to fly higher up to escape predators. It is possible that their camouflaged ventrals are less effective higher up in the trees, but with such bright and bold patterns it is likely that they taste bad to predators. Catonepheles are readily attracted to bait sources like rotting fruit or rotting fish, and often while they are feeding you will have a chance to photograph them at rest with their wings open flat. They are breathtaking.
Nessaea butterflies have a few similarities to Catonephele butterflies. They are about the same in size, they are both rainforest butterflies, the dorsal (top) surfaces of the wings share the black/orange color scheme, and they both are attracted to bait sources. But otherwise the Nessaea butterflies are different. Nessaea butterflies are also dimorphic, but it is usually the addition of an extra stripe or spot and both sexes are equally beautiful. The male and female Nessaeas at least look like they belong to the same group. Both the males and females are jet black with neon orange markings. In most species there is also a bright blue band, and in some species only a blue band with no orange. The Nessaea ventral is the most beautiful shade of light green with minimal black markings and tiny spots. Unlike Catonepheles, Nessaea butterflies rarely leave the rainforest. We have never seen one in a clearing or out in the open. Nessaeas like sunlight, and they will often rest on a leaf to sun themselves. But most often we have seen them on leaves at heights between 5 and 15 feet. It is possible that with their wings closed, their green ventrals camouflage them within the adjacent leaves. Nessaeas apparently have very good eyesight, and they are also very timid. We have often stood nearby watching them cautiously approach bait only to have them fly to safety when we approach. They will sit there watching us just out of reach until we retreat to a safe distance. Then they will fly down to the bait again to feed. It’s an interesting “cat and mouse” game.
One nice thing about both Catonephele and Nessaea butterflies is that they are all relatively common, and therefore relatively inexpensive for collectors. Also, because their numbers of species are small, it is possible to acquire a complete collection fairly easily. We have several species on display in our Wonders Of Nature department, and they are always guaranteed to make an impression. Next time you visit our store, make it a point to see them. You’ll quickly see why they are among our favorites. Don’t forget to look at our photos this week. We have selected some of the most impressive species to feature.
We hope you enjoyed this week’s edition of Friday Flyers. We love sharing our interest in butterflies and insects with you. Please enjoy the photos we have posted with this week’s edition, and be sure to see all the previous pictures in our Friday Flyers album. Remember to “like” our Wonders Of Nature page, and be sure to pass it along to all your Facebook Friends. We hope you’ll visit our Wonders Of Nature department soon, and we look forward to seeing you.
Nessaea butterflies from our research trips to South America
Male Catonephele butterflies from our research trips to South America
One of our all-time favorite butterflies! This is Catonephele numilia, from our research trip to Ecuador. The first time we saw this butterfly was after a long day spent in the jungle. We left the trail and took a moment to take a drink from our canteens. When we looked back toward the forest, we saw this butterfly sunning itself and feeding on some bait we left there. What a thrill it was to see this!
Female Catonephele butterflies from our research trips to South America. The males look so different, that when they were first discovered, they were thought to be different species!