Tucson Botanical Gardens (Butterfly Magic at the Gardens)
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The Red Postman (Heliconius erato) is one of about 40 Neotropical species of butterfly belonging to the genus Heliconius. It is also commonly known as the Small Postman, the Red Passion Flower Butterfly, or the Crimson-patched Longwing.[
The species is remarkably variable in colour and form throughout northern South America, depending on location, and its various appearances can be difficult to distinguish from various other Heliconius butterflies such as Heliconius sara, also known as the Sara Longwing. Particularly hard to distinguish is the related Heliconius melpomene, or “The Postman”, which mimics almost all the colour forms of Heliconius erato; colour forms are synchronized between the two throughout their common habitats. It is likely the clade containing Heliconius erato radiated first, establishing the wing pattern diversity found in both species of butterfly. Two features found on the underside help to distiguish H. erato from H. melpomene—H. erato has four red dots where the wing attaches to the thorax while H. melpomene has three and the yellowish white stripe on the underside reaches the margin of the hindwing in H. erato but ends early in H. melpomene.
Heliconius erato is up to about 5.7 cm (2.25 inches) in wingspan with a jerky unelegance in flight.
Like Heliconius charitonius, H. erato is one of the few butterflies that collects and digests pollen, conferring considerable longevity to the adults (several months). Adults roost in groups, returning to the same location each night.