The genus of Heliconius butterflies has more than a few common names among its species. The butterflies, which are numerous in Costa Rica, have 39 known species.
Heliconius hecale has a listing of nearly thirty different subspecies that all live within the range of Mexico to Peru, and many other species of the genus extend into Brazil. The butterfly can be found on the Caribbean and Pacific coastline of Costa Rica, and it inhabits many different kinds of areas such as forests, pasture lands, plantations, gardens and so on.
Mating & Reproduction
The mating of Heliconius butterflies has been studied extensively by naturalists for the many dissimilar kinds of mating practices that can be found among the differing species. Some species display a mating system referred to as backcrossing where butterflies look to maintain one genetic line by mating with a hybrid species and knocking out the unwanted gene alleles.
Another species of Heliconius, Heliconius charithonia or the Zebra Longwing (also found in Costa Rica), waits or guards the pupae of a female butterfly. The males may be waiting with one or two others outside of the chrysalis for a period of time. When the female emerges from her cocoon, the males (if there is more than one) will fight one another for the right to mate with the female.
Most species of Heliconius place their eggs on the vines of passion flowers which serve as their host plants. Females carry the eggs for a longer period of time than other species of butterfly, and the protection and development of the egg is insured inside of its mother.
Females in particular have longer lifespans due to their elongated pregnancies. Most of the butterflies found in the genus of Heliconius exhibit a form of mimicry to dissuade predators. The various color morphs look similar to butterflies that don’t taste good, are possibly poisonous and the like. Their mating practices can sometimes lead them to hybridizing their offspring in the hopes of making them look more like a less desirable butterfly in terms of being eaten.
Heliconius generally eat the nectar of various species of passionflowers. Passionflowers also serve as their host plants, and the larvae, which undergoes various instars (development stages) as a caterpillar, eat the leaves of the plant from birth until their metamorphosis.
This genus of butterfly contributed to furthering Charles Darwin’s model for evolution when the naturalist Henry Walter Bates returned to England from a trip to Brazil. It continues to be a highly valued group in terms of scientific discovery, and has played an especially important role in the study of genetics.
Locations in Costa Rica: Guanacaste National Park, Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, Santa Rosa National Park, Cahuita National Park
Diet: passionflowers, nectar
Migration Pattern: various
Species: Heliconius hecale