A class picture at Poas Volcano in Costa Rica, 1997.
In Costa Rica, Woodruff Benson did experiments with mimicry. He used the Heliconius erato. This is a common, unpalatable butterfly with very brillant colors. He took this butterfly and altered its markings. Then, he took the same number of unaltered butterflies as a control. Then, he would release these butterflies into the wild and collect them the following day. After a few collections, he noticed that the altered butterflies did not have good amounts of returns. So, this proves that the predators learn the specific beautiful colors of a butterfly and stay away from them, but with the new alterations, the animals had not learned them and thought that they were edible.
E. How Butterflies get their colors
i.) Green and Yellow
Green and Yellow are mainly for caterpillars because of the large amount of time these creatures spend on the leaves. The previous belief was that the caterpillars got their green coloration from the significant amount of leaves the caterpillars consume, but this has been disproved because chlorophyll becomes discolored after it is consumed. So, some caterpillars have transparent skin that reflects the color of the food that they have just consumed giving them a green hue. On the other hand, many caterpillars obtain the green color by adding yellow pigments to blue pigments. This is called the Tyndall effect. The Tyndall effect can be obtained by eating yellow plant parts called the carotenoids and this mixes with the blue bile in the caterpillar’s digestive system. There are not many green butterflies, but they obtain their green coloration by their scales and the refraction of light as it hits them, like the Green Hairstreak.
ii.) Black and Brown
The coloration of black and brown is obtained by melanin with is from the chemical tryosin. If there is a large concentration of melanin, the butterfly has black coloration. Blacks and browns are mainly used for butterflies that live at high altitudes because the dark colors attract heat and keep the butterfly warm.
The beautiful iridescent colors are made by light broke up by the microscopic corrugations on the scales on a butterfly’s wing. (Much like the green coloration is made for the Green Hairstreak butterfly)
The butterflies with eyespots mimic vertebrates’ eyes. This allows for two things. First, the eye may frighten the predator because they think that it is another large animal. Second, the predator may attack the wing, which is a dispensable area because the butterfly can still fly with as little as two-thirds of their wings.
ii.) Front to back mimicry
Some butterflies, like the Swallowtails, have front to back mimicry. This means that when the butterfly is seen from the side, their wings depict a similar butterfly facing the other direction. This allows for greater survival rate because the predator may be confused and move on or it may aim for the wings thinking that it will get the body. So, the butterfly will survive another day or so to reproduce.
When butterflies lay their eggs, they are hoping for this next generation to survive. The eggs will blend in with the host plant, so predators do not see them. This is seen with the Blue Morpho butterfly because their eggs are transparent and blend in perfectly with the plant. When it rains, the eggs do not reflect the green of the plant, but they look like raindrops and blend in with the other droplets on the leaf.
G. Butterfly Decline
The major reason for butterfly decline is the over-collecting of rare butterflies. There is a large market for the sale of butterflies to wealthy collectors, museums, and exhibits. The extremely hard to catch butterflies are worth about $7,000. The foremost problem is that many males are taken because they normally have more coloration than the females. Though the males do mate multiple times as the females only mate once, this still disrupts the food chain and nature with a decline in the male population. Butterflies can also be sold to tourists as they travel through the rainforests. The intact butterflies are place in frames, but the tattered ones are removed from their wings and the bodies are fed to the pigs. Then, the wings are laminated and used for tablecloths, napkins, etc. There are about ? million butterflies taken from the rainforest each year.
In the same manner, there is a decline in butterflies because of the pesticides and habitat degradation. Though pesticides may keep unwanted beetles and pests away, it is also killing off the beautiful butterfly. And, with the demur of the rainforests, many animals, including the butterfly, are vanishing.
H Butterfly Farming
The main export for Costa Rican butterflies is to Europe. There are about 30,000 butterflies shipped a year. It is difficult to ship the butterflies because they need a constant temperature and cannot be shaken. Each box has about 40 to 100 cocoons. A butterfly farm must have warmth and the natural habitat of the butterfly. This is one of the most important aspects of butterfly farming because it keeps the native vegetation and does not destroy nature like other kinds of farms. It also provides a natural source of food for the butterfly! Each species of caterpillars only feed on one specific type of plant, and the female butterfly will lay their eggs on this plant. So, it is imperative for the butterfly farmer to research the types of plants needed for each specific breed of butterfly. To maintain about 60 species of butterflies, it is estimated that about 50 different tropical plants will be necessary. The butterfly farmer will then place the desired potted plant into a plastic box to protect the eggs from predators. Then, once it hatches into a larva, the larva is placed in another box full of its specific plant clippings, and it will need large amounts! Then, once it turns into a cocoon, it is either shipped or released to continue the reproductive cycle. Adult butterflies need about 25 meters squared and 3 meters high of flying area. At the butterfly farm of Brinkerhoff and Sabido, they collect butterflies from the wild for mating purposes in a giant net, but they always release the same number back into the wild after mating season. Since butterfly farms do not destroy the rainforest vegetation and bring the desired butterflies into the market, they are a wonderful aspect to Costa Rica. Also, they bring economy and jobs to Costa Rica. All in all, butterfly farms are wonderful characteristics to the Costa Rican frontier.
The Neotropical Companion by John Kricher
Princeton University Press, 1997. P.158-159.
Butterfly Conservation by T.R. New
Oxford University Press, 1997. P. 63-70.
The Natural History of Butterflies by John Feltwell
Facts on File Publications, 1986.
Fascinating World of Butterflies by Ferdinand
Hanover House, 1958.
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