Hecale Longwing – Heliconius hecale zuleika
Heliconius comprise a colorful and widespread brush-footed butterfly genus distributed throughout the tropical and subtropical regions of the New World. These butterflies utilize Passion flower plants as their larval food source and rely on bright wing color patterns to signal their distastefulness to potential predators (aposematism). Heliconius butterflies have been a subject of many studies due to their abundance and relative ease in breeding under laboratory conditions, as well as due to the extensive mimicry that occurs in this group. Studying this model group is helping scientists to understand how species are formed and why they are so diverse. They are usually unpalatable and are models for Müllerian mimicry by unrelated butterflies. Heliconius butterflies benefit from mimicking other unpalatable species of butterfly because doing so spreads the cost of educating predators. Hybrid speciation has been found to occur in this genus and may account for the diverse mimicry found in Heliconius butterflies.
Featured in The Beauty of Nature On December 6/2010