Heliconius Melpomene - The Postman
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Species H. Melpomene
..............................BREEDING HELICONIUS (NYMPHALIDAE) IN A TEMPERATE CLIMATE
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Heliconius melpomene is a widespread neotropical species well known for its geographic diversity in colour pattern. Heliconius melpomene is found from Central America to South America, especially on the slopes of the Andes mountains. It most commonly inhabits open terrain and forest edges, although it can also be found near the edges of rivers and streams. It shares its range with other Heliconius species, and H. melpomene is usually less abundant than other species. H. melpomene occurs from sea level to 1,400 m in forests edges.
Caterpillars of Heliconius exhibit a behavior known as monophagy, meaning they feed on only one kind of plant, specifically the genus Passiflora. In H. melpomene, the host plants are limited to Passiflora oerstedii and Passiflora menispermifolia. Eggs are yellow and approximately 1.5 x 1 mm. Females usually place eggs singly on stipules and young leaves of the host plant. Mature larvae have a white body with black spots and spines, yellow anal plate and orange head with two black horns; length is around 1.5 cm. Caterpillars are solitary or in small groups of 2-3 individuals.
The postman butterfly is predominately black with either red or yellow stripes across the forewings. The postman butterfly has large long wings (35-39 mm). It is poisonous and the red patterns on its wings are an example of aposematism. Both males and females release a strong odor detectable even to humans when handled in order to deter predation.
Heliconius melpomene possesses ultraviolet vision which enhances its ability to distinguish subtle differences between markings on the wings of other butterflies. This allows the butterfly to avoid mating with other species that share the same geographic range.
There are many morphs of this butterfly throughout Central and South America. The geographical variation in patterns has been studied using linkage mapping and it has been found that the patterns are associated with a small number of genetic loci called genomic "hotspots". Hotspot loci for color patterning have been found homologous between co-mimics H. erato and H. melpomene, strengthening evidence for parallel evolution between the two species, across morph patterns.