Monday, April 15, 2024

Butterfly of the Week: Callias Kite

This week's butterfly's name can be read as either a description of the butterfly or a memorial to a character in ancient history. As a name or nickname Callias is a form of the Greek word kallos, meaning "good-looking" and thus, to the ancient Greeks, "good." In history this name was given to several men. Probably the best known was an Athenian diplomat remembered as the author of a long-awaited peace treaty. 

Photo from Mariposas de Colombia. Like many Swallowtails, callias can be photographed sipping water from shallow puddles, and seems to be quite at peace with a diverse crowd of drinking buddies.

Photo by Naturenerd627.

But, in a region that's rich in butterflies, nobody seems to have taken much notice of callias. The most notable scientific debate about it occurred around the turn of the twentieth century, when someone rediscovered it and wanted to name the species columbus. Walter Rothschild scolded that writer in a dry, scientific way. 

Eurytides callias is found in the Amazon River basin and the Andes, at low to medium altitudes. A Colombian writer says they stop at altitudes of about 1000 m above sea level, 3300 feet. The species is regularly found in eleven different countries.. Much of what's been written about it, online, is in Spanish or Portuguese. It's familiar to people who share its habitat, not considered to be particularly threatened, sometimes used as a model for arts and crafts. Several sites offer dead bodies for sale to collectors, not for very high prices. Tourist sites list this species as an attraction for nature tours, but not a primary attraction.

 Males and females look alike. The shape is similar to our Zebra Swallowtails. The butterflies are slightly larger, with wingspreads from 3 to 4 inches. The pale section of the wings can look white, pale green, or pale yellow. Both sides of the wings look pretty much alike; the upper side may show more vivid color.

Photo by Philkahler. Adult butterflies can't eat leaves, but they probably can taste them. The bottoms of butterflies' feet contain sensory nerves that seem to recognize the flavors and textures of leaves, as well as the liquids the butterflies can eat themselves. Female butterflies look for not only the right species of plant, but the right kind of leaf, to lay their eggs on.

A hundred years ago Walter Rothschild wrote that the early life stages of this butterfly were unknown, and no progress seems to have been made since. Adult Kite Swallowtails are generally pollinators, especially of trees in the genus Annonaceae. Some Kites live in total symbiosis with one tree species in this genus: no trees, no butterflies; no butterflies, no trees. Whether this is true for callias nobody claims to know.

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