Heliconius wallacei & Heliconius cydno
20x15x6cm frame (black)
These two members of the genus Heliconius are to be found in lowland rainforest below around 800m, from Central America down to Southern Brazil and Peru. They have a delicate fluttering flight, especially when hovering around the flowers they feed from. Heliconiini are remarkable for producing a large variety of colour forms within a single species.
Several species of Heliconius are wonderful examples of Müllerian mimicry, where two distinct species, both noxious to predators, have evolved to display similar colourings as a form of mutual defence – once a predator has eaten one H. melpomene, it will think twice about trying to eat the separate species H. erato . (The mechanism of Müllerian mimicry should be contrasted with Batesian mimicry, where an unpalatable species is mimicked by a completely harmless one.)
Somewhat unusually, Heliconius females feed on pollen as well as nectar. Studies have shown that females deprived of pollen can only produce about 15% of the number of eggs as females fed on both pollen and nectar. The pollen of their preferred flowers provides amino acids which can’t be obtained from nectar and other sources, which contribute greatly to their longevity – some Heliconius species are known to live as long as nine months.
Members of the Heliconius tribe are known to memorise routes that take them to their preferred pollen sources, host plants, and communal roosting places, and plan the most efficient route for their foraging.