Erato Heliconian Butterfly at the National Butterfly Center

Erato Heliconian Butterfly on Grass photographed by Jeff Zablow at the National Butterfly Center, Mission, TX

This one sure has difficulty trying to hide in the near dark National Butterfly Center grass. Those bold, bright red stripes blare out at you. Makes you wonder why this rare butterfly, that occasionally visits there, wonder why it has those red stripes.

When it did finally fly, it flew down the trail, some nearly 150 feet, always in sight and it followed a straight-line path, some 4 feet above the ground. I watched, transfixed, for I saw something that intrigued me. During that straight-line flight, those red stripes were always visible, they actually were always easily seen.

My hypothesis? This butterfly must be toxic to predators that would prey on it. Those red stripes may signal habitat predators that this butterfly is toxic (poisonous), and should not be captured.

Do you concur with this opinion?

Jeff

4 thoughts on “Erato Heliconian Butterfly at the National Butterfly Center

  1. I concur with your opinion that Heliconius erato must be toxic to the taste buds of any predator, and that uninterrupted double RED surely warns, ‘Stay Away, Or You Will Regret It’.”
    Since I only know H. erato through your posts, never seen it in person, in order to come up with the answer, I had to do some research.
    From Wikipedia, “Heliconius melpomene, the Postman butterfly, has its COLORATION coevolved with a sister species H. erato as a warning to predators of its inedibility; this is an example of ‘Müllerian mimicry’.
    Jeff, however, there is another side factor that you may want to explore: “H. melpomene was one of the first butterfly species observed to forage for POLLEN, a behavior that is common in other groups but rare in butterflies”, (according to pacificsciencecenter).
    Psiguia vine co-evolved with the Heliconius to meet the butterfly’s pollen needs, while the butterfly meets the plant’s pollination requirement.
    Furthermore, “H. erato’s longevity can be explained by its benign climate and undoubted unpalatability, as well as the benefits of digesting pollen, which provides amino acids that can’t be obtained from nectar or other sources, and contributes greatly to the longevity of the butterflies – some Heliconius species are known to live for up to 9 months as adults”.
    (From Wikipedia., and pacificsciencecenter).
    Butterflies of the Amazon and Andes
    Common Longwing
    Heliconius erato

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    • Much appreciate this treasure trove of info. of the Erato. I do hope you are able to meet this rare butterfly one day, in that Mission, Texas National Butterfly Center magical reserve. It’s moving, just stirs you, knowing you are meeting what fewer than few ever have an opportunity to meet.

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      • You’re quite welcome, Jeff!
        You’ve also piqued my curiosity with your beautiful description! “Seeing this Erato Heliconian butterfly was a Rush! for me, its stark beauty adding to the excitement. Jet black with screaming! red flashes and the equally loud! yellow stripes. There was never a moment when the red could not be seen.”
        Yes, I do hope I am able to make the trip with a friend one day, to meet this rare butterfly in that Mission, Texas National Butterfly Center magical reserve! Thanks, Jeff.

        Like

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