Monday, April 8, 2024

Butterfly of the Week: Eurytides Bellerophon

"How dear's it, if it costs your life?
In your case, very cheap,"
They used to say, when any day
Loved ones were braced to weep.
Sometimes they used a butterfly
As symbol of mortality;
Six weeks to crawl, two weeks to fly,
In Nature's prodigality!
Yet, short as their lives be, it's my belief
The loss of butterflies would cause us grief.

This week's butterfly is another Brazilian specialty, Eurytides bellerophon, that has yet to be really studied by modern scientists. As one science site put it, no description or identification information, life cycle information, behavior information, host plant information, location information, or other information beyond a few snapshots, is available online for this species. 

Photo by Kbraitamaral, who snapped it in November in Campo Largo. 

Part of what makes our Zebra Swallowtails so eye-catching is their somewhat exotic look. They are native to North America, yet somehow they look as if they belonged in South America or on a Caribbean island. That's because so many butterflies that look a bit like them do belong in those places, like the Bellerophon, a whitish butterfly with blackish stripes that form a Y shape on both sides of its forewings. 

The original Bellerophon (bell-lair-o-fawn) was a legendary Greek prince. Tall, strong, and bold, he slew the original Chimera, a three-headed man-eating monster, and tamed the original Pegasus or winged horse. After these feats, the mythological version of his story says that he tried to ride the Pegasus to the heights of Mount Olympus and was cast down, while fragments of a dramatized version attributed to Euripides say that he doubted that the Greek gods were real. While many of the Bible stories deal in one way or another with a choice to obey God rather than men, many of the Greek stories deal in one way or another with the Deadly Sin of Pride. People were admired by other humans and sometimes even by the immortals because they did something very well, but then many people were punished because their success made them conceited. Bellerophon was one of many heroes and heroines whose stories are tragedies about the perils of pride. In addition to the butterfly species, a genus of shellfish have been named after him.

The butterflies are popular enough to have appeared on postage:

Image from Stampdata.

Abundant in the right times and places, this species is not considered threatened. Kite Swallowtails thrive where their food plants thrive. Their symbiotic relationships work for both species...unless the host plant, often a small tree in the family Annonaceae, is destroyed. Deforestation and pesticide spraying are their only known enemies. 

The first description of the species was in Latin:

That was Dalman in 1823. In 1824 Godart published a description of the same butterfly, probably written before Dalman's article was printed, calling it coresilaus. In 1833 Swainson published one calling it swainsonius, which was inexcusable. Fortunately naturalists are more forgiving than Greek gods, and Swainson was allowed to bequeathe his own name to a bird species that has received more attention from posterity than this butterfly has/

The host plant is Guatteria nigrescens, a small tree in the Annonaceae group that bears edible fruit. Several Kite Swallowtails eat the leaves of trees that humans can use for fruit or medicine, but they don't become pests.

Adult butterflies are pollinators, but many male Swallowtails are also composters. While females emerge from their cocoons ready to mate, males in many species have to spend hours or days slurping up mineral-rich liquids before they reach sexual maturity. They are attracted to puddles, where they seem to sense safety in numbers and sip water in mixed flocks along with other butterflies of many species. Females in several of these species  meet their dietary requirement for minerals just through contact with males. They flutter around the edges of the groups of males. A male who is ready to mate will fly up and chase or play-fight with a chosen female. Mating may begin after a few minutes or a few seconds of these games. Bellerophons are puddlers. Their drinking buddies include other Swallowtails and less similar species. 

By the standards of Brazil, the home of the enormous Morphos, Bellerophons aren't very big.

Photo by Pedroalvaro, in January, Itatiaia. 

Among mixed flocks of butterflies, however, they can look large.

Photo by Mockingbird12, October, Caraca.

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