Thursday, August 27, 2015

Zebra Heliconian and White Peacock

Last March, Erika and I found two easily identifiable, tropical butterflies on the Bailey Tract of the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge.

The Zebra Heliconian is found from South America north into Florida and southern Texas. The butterfly strays north to New Mexico, Nebraska, and South Carolina. Larvae feed on poisonous passion vines, rendering the butterflies poisonous to predators and the adult’s striking pattern further advertises their noxiousness (Brock and Kaufman).

Helionians also have a bizarre mating habit—upon mating, males present females with a cyanide-laced spermatophore, a “nuptual gift" containing sperm.  The cyanide does not kill the female or the embryos, but does make them distasteful, if not poisonous, to predators. The spermatophore also changes the female’s odor, making her less attractive to other males (Wikipedia).

White Peacocks have a similar range to the heliconian, but may more wides wonder into the central United States. Male White Peacocks hold 15-meter territories containing host plants and aggressively defend them against other insects and male peacock butterflies (Wikipedia). Host plants include Water Hyssop, Green Shrimp Plant, and Frogfuit.

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