|Postman Butterfly – Heliconius erato
Captive live butterfly photographed at Peggy
Notebaert Nature Museum, Chicago
Butterfly Main | Skippers | Butterfly Index
Captive longwing butterflies have unusually long lifespans and high fecundity rates, which largely result from their augmented diet. Instead of surviving on food stores from the larval stage or solely sipping flower nectar, adult longwing butterflies are avid pollen eaters. This trait makes them eminently suitable for butterfly farming and butterfly gardening.
This relatively recent happy circumstance is also good for wild butterfly populations – people who used to go into the rain forest and capture live butterflies, or plunder their eggs and chrysalises now can be set to work on butterfly farms, thereby sparing wild populations, and providing much needed jobs for many impoverished regions. Butterfly habitat worldwide is being destroyed at a rate unprecedented until modern times. Slash-and-burn agriculture in South America and other tropical areas continue to shrink the available acreage for the caterpillar's host plant. The continued expansion of urban sprawl in Earth's cities eat away at the butterfly's ecosystem.
Heliconians are brightly colored butterflies with long forewings. Once placed in their own family, they are now considered closely related to the fritillaries. Larvae of most longwings feed on passion vines, and this host plant imparts noxious chemicals to the larvae which are carried over to the adult butterflies. This relationship is identical to the monarch butterflies' reliance on its host plant, milkweed, for defense. Predators find these chemicals distasteful and avoid eating both the larvae and adult butterflies.
Family Nymphalidae – Brushfoots or brush-footed butterflies encompass approximately 3,000 species worldwide, of which 160 or so live in or visit North America. This is a very diverse family of butterflies, and they occur everywhere except the polar ice caps. Their unifying characteristic is the reduced forelegs of both males and females. The habit of holding the forelegs close to the body is shared with many other insects, including bumblebees, flies, bugs and beetles.
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Order Lepidoptera, which contains both butterflies and moths, includes at least 125,000 known species including 12,000 in North America. Butterflies are revered for their brightly colored wings and pleasing association with fair weather and flowers.