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|Morpho didius – Museum specimen|
|c.29 species and 150 subspecies|
|Morpho didius – Museum specimen|
|c.29 species and 150 subspecies|
A Morpho butterfly may be one of over 29 accepted species and 147 accepted subspecies of butterflies in the genus Morpho. They are Neotropical butterflies found mostly in South America as well as Mexico and Central America. Morphos range in wingspan from the 7.5 cm (3 inch) M. rhodopteron to the imposing 20 cm (8 inch) Sunset Morpho, M. hecuba. The name Morpho, meaning changed or modified, is also an epithet of Aphrodite and Venus.
Many Morpho butterflies are colored in metallic, shimmering shades of blue and green. These colors are not a result of pigmentation but are an example of iridescence through structural coloration: the microscopic scales covering the Morpho's wings reflect incident light repeatedly at successive layers, leading to interference effects that depend on both wavelength and angle of incidence/observance. Thus the colors produced vary with viewing angle, however they are actually surprisingly uniform, perhaps due to the tetrahedral (diamond-like) structural arrangement of the scales or diffraction from overlying cell layers. This structure may be likened to a photonic crystal. The lamellate structure of their wing scales has been studied as a model in the development of biomimetic fabrics, dye-free paints, and anti-counterfeit technology used in currency.
The iridescent lamellae are only present on the dorsal side of their wings, leaving the ventral side brown.
The ventral side is decorated with ocelli or eyespots. In some species, such as M. godarti, the dorsal lamellae are so thin as to allow the ventral ocelli to peek through. While not all Morphos have iridescent coloration, they all have ocelli. In most species only the males are colorful, supporting the theory that the coloration is used for intrasexual communication between males. The lamellae reflect up to 70% of light falling on them, including any ultraviolet (UV). The eyes of Morpho butterflies are thought to be highly sensitive to UV light and therefore the males are able to see each other from great distances. Some South American species are reportedly visible by the human eye up to one kilometre away.
There also exist a number of other species which are tawny orange or dark brown for instance (M. hecuba, M. telemachus). Some species are white principal among these being M. catenarius and M. laertes. An unusual species that is fundamentally white in coloration, but which exhibits a stunning pearlescent purple and teal iridescence when viewed at certain angles is the rare M. sulkowskyi.Some Andean species are small and delicate (M. lympharis). Among the metallic blue Morpho species, M. rhetenor stands out as the most iridescence of all, with M. cypris a close second. Indeed, M. cypris is notable in that specimens that are mounted in entomological collections will exhibit color differences across the wings if they are not 'set' perfectly flat.
Morphos have a very distinctive slow, bouncy flight pattern due to the wing area being enormous relative to the body size.
The entire life cycle of the Morpho butterfly, from egg to death, is approximately 115 days.
The larvae hatch from pale green, dewdrop-like eggs. The caterpillars have reddish-brown bodies with bright lime-green or yellow patches on its back. Its hairs are irritating to human skin, and when disturbed it secretes a fluid that smells like rancid butter from eversible glands on the thorax. The strong odor is a defence against predators. They feed on a variety of plants. The caterpillar will molt five times before entering the pupal stage. The bulbous chrysalis is pale-green or jade-green and emits a repulsive, ultrasonic sound when touched. It is suspended from a stem or leaf of the foodplant.
"The larvae live in nests on different forest -trees and especially on the climbing plants, but attack one another. There are about five moults. Larva cylindrical rather slender, somewhat thickened in the middle,tapering posteriorly. The last segment terminates in an indistinct tail-fork. The head is comparatively large and bears a pair of horizontal, conical processes, directed anteriorly, which are sometimes only rudimentary. Color always bright, sometimes variegated, yellowish with red-brown dorsal stripes or cross-shaped figures, back with long subdorsal tufts of bristles, of which the middle and posterior are in some cases gaily colored. Pupa similar to that of the genus Amathusia but more oval. Head with two tubercles, wing-cases distinctly projecting, abdomen sometimes belted with yellow ; color green or yellowish. Pupa on twigs or leaves attached by the abdomen but hanging free. The pupal stage lasts 20—30 days".
The adults live for about two to three weeks. They feed on the fluids of fermenting fruit, decomposing animals, tree sap, fungi and nutrient rich mud. They are poisonous to predators thanks to toxins they sequestered from plants they fed on as caterpillars.
The commoner Blue Morphos are reared en masse in commercial breeding programs. The iridescent wings are used in the manufacture of jewelry and as inlay in woodworking. Papered specimens are sold with the abdomen removed to prevent its oily contents from staining the wings. Significant quantities of live specimens are exported as pupae from several neotropical countries for exhibition in butterfly houses. Unfortunately, due to their irregular flight pattern and size, their wings are frequently damaged when in captivity.
Morpho larvae,variously according to species and region feed on Leguminosae, Gramineae, Canellaceae, Guttiferae, Erythroxylaceae, Myrtaceae, Moraceae, Lauraceae, Sapindaceae, Rhamnaceae, Euphorbiaceae, Musaceae, Palmae, Menispermaceae, Tiliaceae, Bignoniaceae, and Menispermaceae.
According to Penz and DeVries the ancestral diet of larval Satyrinae is Poaceae or other monocots. Many Morphos have switched to dicots on several occasions during their evolutionary history but basal species have retained the monocot diet.
The blue Morpho species exhibit sexual dimorphism. In some species (for instance M.adonis, M. eugenia, M. aega, M. cypris, and M. rhetenor) only the males are iridescent blue, the females are disruptively coloured brown and yellow. In other species (for instance M. anaxibia, M. godarti, M.didius, M. amathonte, and M. deidamia) the females are partially iridescent but less blue than the males.
A multitude of names attach to the genus Morpho, which has also been variously divided into subgenera. As well as names at species and subspecies level there are hundreds of form, variety, and aberration names. Lamas included all such species within a single genus, and synonymizing many names in a limited number of species. C.M. Penz & P.J. DeVries have provided a phylogenetic analysis with different nomenclature. Other authorities[which?] accept many more species than either.
Morpho butterflies, often very expensive, have always been prized by extremely wealthy collectors.Famous collections include those of the London jeweller Dru Drury and the Dutch merchant Pieter Teyler van der Hulst, the Paris diplomat Georges Rousseau-Decelle, the financier Walter Rothschild, the Romanov Grand Duke Nicholas Mikhailovich of Russia and the, English and German respectively, businessmen James John Joicey and Curt Eisner. In earlier years Morphos graced Cabinets of Curiosities "Kunstkamera" and Royal Cabinets of Natural History notably those of Tsar of Russia Peter the Great, the Austrian empress Maria Theresa and Ulrika Eleonora, Queen of Sweden. More famous is Maria Sibylla Merian who was not wealthy.
The people along the Rio Negro in Brazil once exploited the territorial habits of the Blue Morpho (M. menelaus) by luring them into clearings with bright blue decoys. The collected butterfly wings were used as embellishment for ceremonial masks.Adult Morpho butterflies feed on the juices of fermenting fruit with which they may also be lured. The butterflies wobble in flight and are easy to catch.
Images of various varieties of morpho butterflies.
Morpho peleides Note the symmetric notches left by a bird beak.
Morpho polyphemus One of several "white Morpho" species.
Morpho rhetenor – Museum specimen used for education.But thousands are killed for domestic displays sold to tourists or in gift shops.
Morpho richardius sunning itself for warmth.
Morpho hecuba The largest Morpho with a wingspan of up to 20 centimetres.
Maria Sibylla Merian Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium 1705
Hübner Sammlung exotischer Schmetterlinge Augsburg [1806-1841]
Hippolyte Lucas Histoire Naturelle des Lepidopteres Exotiques Paris,1835.
Adalbert Seitz Die Gross-Schmetterlinge der Erde 1860-1938
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Data related to Morpho at Wikispecies