Readers’ wildlife photographs

Mark Sturtevant sent some lovely photos of lepidopterans:

This is my 2nd installment of pictures from local butterfly houses. Most of these were recently featured here by Robert Lang, but among this batch are some new species.

The first two pictures show one of the more common butterflies featured in these houses, namely the postman (Heliconius melpomene). This South American species is unpalatable, and comes in several regional forms that co-mimics regional forms of another unpalatable species, H. erato. Mimicry between species that share Do Not Eat warning signs is called Müllerian mimicry. The distribution of the two species are mapped here.



The zebra longwing (Heliconius charitonia) shown in the next picture is a widely distributed species of the neotropics. It ranges northward into Florida where I hear it is their state butterfly. I had learned that this species lives quite a long time because they supplement the usual nectar diet by also eating pollen. I wonder how they do that.


Next is a very large butterfly, the paper kite (Idea leuconoe). This species ranges through southeast Asia.


This mating pair of cattleheart butterflies (Parides eurimedes) has an interesting story. I was setting up to take a picture of one of them, when along came the second one (which must have been a male) and this one hovered over the perching female for several seconds while flicking its abdomen up and down. I immediately knew this was to direct a pheromone from the flying male to the perching female, because I learned it from WEIT some time ago.  The aphrodisiac evidently worked because the male then landed next to its intended, and they wasted no time, as shown here. I was pretty much gobsmacked.


No trip to a butterfly house is complete without seeing the large blue morphos (Morpho peleides). These always attract a lot of attention when in flight, but as the first picture shows they usually sit with their wings tightly closed. This one let its camouflage slip a little. I had a couple land on me, and someone told me that they like to do that if you are wearing brown, which indeed I was.


The second picture shows one with wings open. I do not know the purpose of this spectacular color, but perhaps it is to signal to other morphos since they do chase each other around a lot.


Next is an old morpho, wings open, that has probably reached the end of its life. The blue color is not due to pigment but is an example of a structural color, meaning that light striking the upper wing surfaces experience differential wave interference. Only blue color reflects away from the labyrinthine microstructures on the upper wing scales, and so that is what we see.


I regard the final picture as one of the best pictures I have taken in my hobby. This old morpho (it might have been the same one in the previous picture) was perched up high near the glass ceiling so that sunlight was strongly passing through the wings. Absolutely no blue color was visible since the light transmitted through the wings was more intense than the reflected light needed for the blue color. But by using the camera flash I could get a bit more reflected light off of the upper wing surface, and voilà: blue color!



  1. Posted September 13, 2016 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    Beautiful photos! What focal length lens are you using? Are these butterflies wary, or can you approach them easily?


    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted September 13, 2016 at 10:36 am | Permalink

      Thank you. The close-ups would be with my trusty 50mm prime lens mounted on extension tubes. I used an ancient 100-300 telephoto lens for the last picture.

  2. rickflick
    Posted September 13, 2016 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    Great shots. The use of flash on the last one was clever.

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted September 13, 2016 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

      I was thinking that the flash would bring in the blue, but I still kick myself for not realizing I shoulda also taken a picture w/o
      the flash to show that everywhere it looked like a pale brownish butterfly with vague eyespots.

  3. Glenda from Kelowna
    Posted September 13, 2016 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    Beautiful and informative. Thank you.

  4. bugfolder
    Posted September 13, 2016 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    Absolutely beautiful especially the last. (And some of them oddly familiar. ;o)). Given Morphos’ penchant for closing their wings whenever they detect a camera pointing at them, most impressive, too.

  5. Heather Hastie
    Posted September 13, 2016 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    Gorgeous photos. I’m always a sucker for a good butterfly pic.

  6. Posted September 13, 2016 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    The last picture is indeed wonderful!

    “I had learned that this species lives quite a long time because they supplement the usual nectar diet by also eating pollen. I wonder how they do that.”

    Actually most Heliconius butterflies (including the Postman earlier in your post) also do this. They collect pollen on the outside of the proboscis and I think they secrete a fluid that dissolves the proteins…

    They especially like the pollen of certain vines in the cucumber family, and in a jungle these plants are visited continuously by many species of Heliconius. Each butterfly quickly learns the locations of these vines and trap-lines them. They learn the locations from older butterflies; this is often facilitated by Heliconius’ penchant for roosting together in groups at night.

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted September 13, 2016 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

      That is interesting, and so thanks.

  7. ToddP
    Posted September 13, 2016 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

    Excellent photos, Mark! As a butterfly fan I really enjoyed these. Blue morphos are so beautiful. Thanks for sharing.

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