Postman (Heliconius melpomene)
One of the most commonly found butterflies in the Heliconius genus, the postman butterfly is known for its vivid coloration. There are twenty-nine identified subspecies, with many of them mimicking other Heliconius species as an adaptive feature (Müllerian mimicry).
- Family: Nymphalidae
- Genus: Heliconius
- Common names: Common postman, postman, piano key butterfly or Amazon postman butterfly
- Scientific Name: Heliconius melpomene
Description and Identification
The mature larva is about 0.5 inches in size, with a white body marked with black spots and long spines. The orange head has two black horns, while there is also a yellow anal plate. They remain solitary or form small groups of 2 to 3 individuals.
Chrysalis is light brown with golden spots on the back, and about ten black spines protruding from the ventral side. The thorax or mid portion is distinctly curved, with the antennae having multiple short black spines.
Color and Appearance: The basic body color is black, with distinct red/orange, yellow or white bands on the forewings, and sometimes on the hindwings. There can be a single red vertical band on each forewing, while some subspecies may have red blotches instead of a band. The hindwings may be entirely black or may have a white band running vertically.
Average wingspan: 2.5-3.3 inches
Flight pattern: Slow, yet erratic
Yellow in color, and laid one at a time
|Distribution||Common in Mexico, but found throughout Central and South America|
|Habitat||Sunny open lands, forest edges, pine and pine-oak forests, often near slow-flowing streams and rivers|
|Lifespan of adults||Believed to be about 6 to 9 months|
|Host plants||In Central America: Passionflower species Passiflora oerstedii and Passiflora menispermifolia
Elsewhere: Various passionflower species
|Adult diet||Pollen, flower nectar, ripe/rotting fruits|
Did You Know
- The caterpillars store the toxins from the passionflower vines they eat, which remains in their body throughout their adult life, functioning as a defense mechanism against potential predators.
- They hardly have any natural predators due to their foul taste.
- With at least 6 months to live as an adult, most species in the Heliconius genus are among the longest-living butterflies.
- The curved pupa looks like a dry dead leaf hanging from a tree branch, deceiving any potential enemies.