Blue Morpho Butterfly

Photo by Artist for the Amazon Sam Abell.

Description

The Blue Morpho Butterfly (Morpho peleides) is one of the largest butterflies in the word, with a wingspan reaching up to 8 inches [1]. These butterflies are found throughout Central and South America, and are the most common butterfly of the Morpho genus in Central America. Blue Morpho Butterflies are known for the spectacular blue color on the topside of their wings, which is actually not due to a pigment, but the configuration of scales reflecting light in a way that produces an apparent iridescent blue color. On the brown underside of their wings, there are yellow eyespots that are effective in warding off predators.

Habitat

The Blue Morpho Butterfly inhabits tropical rainforests, spending most of its time in the understory. But while looking for mates, they fly throughout all parts of canopy and are even seen by pilots flying overhead [2]!

Behavior and Diet

Like most organisms that undergo metamorphosis, the Blue Morpho Butterfly has varying diet preferences at different life stages. The caterpillars munch on leaves from plants in the pea family [3]. The adult butterflies sip, not chew, food via a proboscis, or elongated mouthpart. They do not drink flower nectar like some butterflies, but instead consume rotting fruits, fermented tree sap, fungi and even dead animals [1]. Blue morphos detect food mostly using sensory apparatus on their appendages as opposed to using visual cues. Due to their short lifespan of ~ 115 days [2], Blue Morpho Butterflies spend most of their time eating and reproducing.

Threats

The conservation of this species has not yet been assessed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, but habitat destruction and fragmentation threaten the habitat it relies upon for survival. And unfortunately, Blue Morpho Butterflies experience direct mortality inflicted by collectors who harvest the butterflies for personal collections or to sell through the jewelry trade.

Photo by Artist for the Amazon Sam Abell.

Ecological Importance

The Blue Morpho Butterfly is of obvious ecological importance because other Amazonian creatures prey upon it. But this species is also one small component that contributes to the overall biological diversity of the Amazon, and biodiversity is a feature worth protecting in itself. Biodiversity creates redundancy in the ecological niches (or roles) that organisms occupy, thereby protecting ecosystems by making them more resilient to long-term environmental changes [4]. In the wake of climate change and impending development, protecting biodiversity enhances the prospects that the Amazon Rainforest will continue to provide the immense amount of resources and ecosystem services* as it currently does, because species will be variably successful in adjusting to altered environmental conditions. Therefore, protecting a diverse range of species (and habitats) increases the probability that the Amazon as it now functions will be maintained into the future.

– Help Protect Butterfly Habitat

References
  1.     http://www.rainforest-alliance.org/species/blue-butterfly
  2.    https://www.stlzoo.org/animals/abouttheanimals/invertebrates/insects/butterfliesandmoths/bluemorpho
  3.     Feltwell, John. “Family Nymphalidae.” The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Butterflies. London: Quantum Books Ltd., 1998. 182-183. Print.
  4.     Oliver, T.H. et al. (2015). Biodiversity and resilience of ecosystem functions. Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 30(11): 673-684.