Top 21 Facts About Blue Morpho Butterfly

Facts about blue morpho butterfly
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Facts about Blue Morpho Butterfly: Blue Morpho butterfly or Menelaus Morpho butterfly (Morpho Menelaus) is the most well-known species in the butterfly genus Morpho. The most prominent feature of this butterfly is its wings.

On the upper side, this butterfly’s wings are bright, iridescent blue with black edges. Underneath, their wings are brown-colored. These butterflies are also quite big – their wings can be up to 12-18 cm in size.

Usually, one can find these butterflies in rainforests of Central and South America, namely Brazil, Mexico and Venezuela, and, of course, along the Amazon delta. Because of their coloring and size, they are actively hunted by collectors.

Blue Morpho butterflies have multiple unique features that attract butterfly lovers and scientists alike.

Facts about Blue Morpho Butterfly

1

The blue color of the morpho butterfly is created because of light reflection.

The wings of the butterflies in the Morpho genus have a structure that contributes to the unique effect.

  • If one places the butterfly’s wing under the microscope, he will see that the upper part of it us covered by diamond-shaped chitin nanoscales.
  • Some specialists refer to them as photonic crystals because, similar to crystals, they can interfere with light.
  • These scales are organized into a complex, layered structure that causes the incoming light to diffract and interfere with each other.
  • As a result, we perceive a bright blue color on their wings. This property is called iridescence.

2

The brown color of the morpho’s wings serves as a disguise.

The upper, blue part of the morpho’s wings is very noticeable. The underside is drastically different from the blue, gem-like upper side.

  • There one would see a mix of black and brown color.
  • Besides the overall brown color palette, there would also be eye-like circles called ocelli on the wing’s edges.
  • This difference in coloring is ideal for masking the butterfly’s presence when it is not flying.
  • When the wings are folded (for example, during sleep or rest times), the butterfly entirely becomes one with the background bark and leaves and becomes invisible for predators.
  • It also helps with another type of disguise used during the flight.

3

The morpho butterflies dual coloring helps them “wink” out.

Having bright, noticeable wings can also contribute to a good disguise.

  • Due to the iridescence feature of the upper side of the blue morpho wings, the observer who watched the butterfly in flight seems never to be able to follow it always.
  • The bright, blinding flashes of light are followed by episodes when the butterfly cannot be seen through the leaf canopy.
  • Any predator trying to catch it would be under the illusion that it appears and disappears.
  • This natural approach is similar to the techniques that magicians employ to distract the public during their tricks.

4

The morpho butterfly coloring is so bright that they can be seen from a plane.

Blue Morpho butterflies can often fly in swarms around rivers and streams in the Amazon region.

  • Flashes of blue color even from one butterfly can temporarily blind some animals.
  • When there are multiple blue butterflies, the brightness increases exponentially.
  • The viewers that watch the parade from below may be forced to close their eyes to shield them.
  • The view from the air is equally spectacular – pilots flying over Amazonian rainforests report they can see them from their planes.
  • Let us hope that those blue visions above the rainforest still would impress many years in the future.

5

Blue Morpho butterflies drink juice, not nectar.

Each butterfly species is different. Some species are so short-lived that they do not eat anything after they hatch from the chrysalis.

  • Others are known to drink nectar from flowers. Morpho butterflies belong to a third group.
  • These butterflies can feed by themselves and usually live for about two weeks before they reproduce and die.
  • Unlike more conventional lepidopteran species, these butterflies rely on juices, not nectar and pollen.
  • Their diet is also quite varied – they can feed on tree sap, juices of ripe or rotten fruit, or some other substances.
  • Still, they also are essential for pollination.

6

Morpho butterflies can taste with their feet.

Even with their impressive wingspan, morpho butterflies are far smaller than other insects.

  • Despite their size, these animals still possess all the necessary receptors needed for collecting the vital information from the environment, such as the location of their peers, presence of predators, and the possibility of weather changes.
  • Usually, they use their antennae to detect chemical signals and pheromones in the air.
  • They also have additional ways to test possible food before actually eating it.
  • For example, they have taste receptors on their feet. This way, they can understand whether this particular object can contain food or whether it is suitable for other purposes, such as taking a rest or laying eggs.

7

The iridescence of morpho butterfly can help create money that cannot be counterfeited.

The science often learns from nature. Many new approaches and technological breakthroughs were inspired by observations of behavior and structure of plants and animals.

  • It seems that morpho butterflies can now join the group of living beings that used to inspire inventions that contain bumblebees, fish, and dragonfly.
  • Their joining the ranks was made possible after the scientists have deciphered the mechanism behind the iridescence of Morpho butterfly wings.
  • Inventors have realized that the unique structure of the butterfly’s photonic crystals can be replicated in the lab.
  • Among other things, a company called Nanotech Security Corp decided to use this mechanism in order to create unique images on security cards and banknotes that cannot be replicated or counterfeited.

8

Morpho butterflies can sleep at night.

There is a reason why morpho butterflies need a good disguise for periods of rest.

  • An adult morpho butterfly can survive up to 1-2 weeks. This is a relatively long life for a butterfly – some species live only for a day. A prolonged life span also means that the butterflies can afford to have periods of rest to replenish their energy.
  • The mode of feeding of morpho butterflies and their iridescence means that they can be active only during the day and heavily rely on sunlight.
  • At night they behave just like us – they go to bed. This ability to sleep at night is called “crypsis“.
  • During rest times, the butterflies try to hide into caves or holes in the trees and fold their wings for good measure to become one with the grey-brown background.

9

Morpho butterflies caterpillars have stinging hairs.

Rainforests are full of predators. Caterpillars are considered staple food for many of them, such as insect-eating birds or lizards.

  • In order to prevent being eaten, caterpillars have to develop defenses of their own. As a result, the caterpillars of blue morpho butterflies look very different from the adult forms.
  • They are small and red-brown with patches of lime green, which makes them better adapted to feeding on leaves.
  • They have also developed the best defense of all – they are dangerous themselves.
  • These brightly colored larvae are covered in thin hair that can cause irritation when touched.
  • Their poison is mildly dangerous even for humans (if they have allergies), and can be deadly for smaller animals, which makes them avoid such food.

10

Both adult and caterpillar forms of morpho butterflies can eject rancid fluid.

Caterpillars of morpho butterflies predominantly eat the leaves of plants that belong to the pea family.

  • They can get poisonous substances from these plants and accumulate them as they grow. That is why it is usually dangerous to eat them for many animals.
  • This poison is not particularly evolutionary sound strategy – it is significantly better to not being eaten in the first place, even if you kill the organism that consumes you.
  • That is why both caterpillars and butterflies of the Morpho species behave similar to skunks – they use these substances to form a nasty fluid with a bad smell.

11

Morpho caterpillars can be cannibals on occasion.

Most caterpillars are very particular about the food they eat. Each species specializes in certain types of plants.

  • Specialization of this type may be beneficial for avoiding competition between species.
  • In some cases – for instance, during draughts or some other catastrophic events – this adaptation may backfire.
  • There may be not enough plant material for the whole caterpillar population. That is why caterpillars of many different species can eat other caterpillars, eggs, or chrysalises.
  • The same was observed for caterpillars of morpho butterflies. Though they usually, they eat local pea plants, in critical conditions they can attack caterpillars of other species.

12

Morpho butterflies are poisonous to eat.

We have already mentioned that caterpillars of morpho butterflies can accumulate poison from the plants they eat without any damage to themselves.

  • This accumulated poison protects them from being eaten. This valuable property is conserved during metamorphosis, which means morpho butterflies are poisonous as well.
  • The poisonous characteristic adds to their list of protection measures against possible attackers.
  • Because of the excellent defenses these butterflies have, they used to be particularly numerous in rainforests before humans have invaded them.
  • Due to the same defenses that helped the butterflies evade predators, they have also become a target for human collectors, which led to significant depletion of the population of the otherwise successful insects.

13

Morpho butterfly caterpillars can enter diapause to survive harsh conditions.

The normal life cycle of a morpho butterfly is relatively short – around 115-137 days from their first day as an egg to their last day as a butterfly.

  • During this short period, weather conditions can become uncomfortable. The caterpillars may hatch during a heavy rainy season or a particularly long drought.
  • As a result, their chances of survival can drop significantly. Thankfully, caterpillars have measures against this turn of events.
  • When they receive the signal that their environment is presently dangerous, ‘most of the caterpillars systems shut down partially, and they enter a state similar to anabiosis. This process is called diapause.
  • Diapause is similar to hibernation of warm-blooded animals – all the metabolic processes become extremely slow in order to conserve energy.
  • This means the animals do not need food until the danger is past.

14

Morpho butterfly wings have a unique structure.

The morpho butterfly wings are very light, hydrophobic, and sturdy at the same time.

  • Together with their ability to interact with light, they are of great interest for researchers specializing in optics.
  • That is why there are attempts to replicate their structure in order to make cheaper optic devices.
  • Another area where their wings structure can be replicated is the building of airplanes.
  • Imagine having planes that can repel water can clean themselves and are extremely light.
  • Would it not transform the way we travel? If the specialists in bioengineering succeed with this project – we would certainly know.

15

Native Amazon tribes believe that morpho butterflies have great significance.

Morpho butterflies play an important role in the mythology of native Amazon tribes.

  • They can play different roles depending on the tribe and the particular tale.
  • In many fairy tales of the region, morpho butterflies serve as spiritual guides that show the heroes the truth about the world, they live in.
  • In other, less serious tales, the same butterflies can even grant wishes.
  • These fairy-like properties may be ascribed to these insects because of their striking color and “winking” ability.
  • Tribes that often use insects as a source of poisons, in their turn, treat blue morphos quite differently.
  • They consider them evil, murderous spirits instead, knowing their poisonous nature.

16

Morpho butterfly egg can change color to protect itself.

The morpho butterfly egg usually takes 12-16 days to hatch. Their eggs also have their own ways to ensure survival.

  • As a rule, the eggs are put on the underside of leaves. It is done for two reasons.
  • First, the newly hatched caterpillars would have an immediate source of food.
  • Second, the eggs are less likely to be seen. Their initial coloring – light green with a circle of brown spots in the middle also helps with masking them.
  • However, that is not all – sometimes the eggs can also change color as they develop.
  • Depending on the stage of development and the surrounding environment, blue morpho eggs can be transparent, green, or brown.

17

Blue Morpho butterflies can feed on decomposing animals.

Sometimes blue morpho butterflies can find very unusual sources of food. As a rule, they use their long proboscis to feed on fermenting fruit and leaves.

  • They also feed on fungi. However, when neither is to be found, these butterflies can turn to meat – namely, they feed on juices of decomposing animals.
  • This type of behavior is far less rare than you might think.
  • A species of butterfly residing in Great Britain, purple emperor, is also known to feed on rotting flesh.
  • Butterfly lovers yearly make attempts to lure this rare butterfly with smelly treats in order to take a picture.

18

Morpho butterflies can help spread fungal spores.

Unusual diet choices of morpho butterflies can hold great importance from an ecological point of view.

  • These butterflies are not excellent flower pollinators, as they depend on fruit juices. They are more likely to assist plants in spreading their seeds, however.
  • Besides flowering plants, Morpho butterflies feed on decomposing fungi, and they have become significant for this class of organisms.
  • Fungi do not have many mechanisms for long-distance dissemination and butterflies help with that by transporting fungal spores on their feet.
  • The spores attach to the leg bristles present on the insect’s feet and can be preserved for a long time until the butterfly finds another fungus of the same species.

19

Only male morpho butterflies have the famous blue coloring.

When you are looking at the pictures of blue morphos, you are probably looking at their male representatives.

  • These species is known for their sexual dimorphism, which means that male and female morpho butterflies look different.
  • Males have bright blue coloring, which is useful for them – it helps female butterflies in finding partners of the same species.
  • Female morphos lack bright coloring and are usually brown or yellow, rarely paler blue.
  • It is also a sound strategy in terms of adaptation – females need to be far less noticeable in order to lay their eggs safely.

20

There are gynandromorphs among morpho butterflies.

As mentioned earlier, there is a clear difference between male and female morpho butterflies.

  • In some cases, though, one can meet a butterfly that looks neither male nor female. Such individuals appear because specific shifts occur in the course of their development.
  • These butterflies are called gynandromorphs. If you look at some gynandromorphs` images, you would see that they resemble a patchwork, where one half is painted “male” blue and the other – “female” brown.
  • They also may have other purely “male” or “female” traits. Such mosaic butterflies are of great interest to scientists that seek the mechanisms of early sex development.

21

Blue Morpho butterflies have few enemies – including humans.

Morpho butterflies have an impressive number of adaptations that keep the predators away: their unique coloring, the poison that their bodies contain, their behavior, as well as other unique features.

  • Because of that, only birds that have adapted to eating poisonous insects such as bees and wasps can consume morpho butterflies.
  • Usually, those birds are jacamars or other flycatcher species. The main threat for the morpho butterflies is humans.
  • One of the reasons it is so that the butterflies of this genus are considered valuable by butterfly collectors.
  • Another danger that this amazing creature faces is the destruction of Amazonian rainforests.
  • When the forest canopy is gone, the butterflies are deprived of food and places to hide.
  • Morpho butterflies are not in the list of endangered species – yet. However, they can soon get there.

As you can see, a butterfly is never is just a butterfly. It is essential to the environment it leaves in and also is very meaningful for many groups of humans, from Native tribes to scientists. We must treat them with respect and care.

Cite this article as: "Top 21 Facts About Blue Morpho Butterfly," in Bio Explorer by Jack Kirsten, August 14, 2019, https://www.bioexplorer.net/blue-morpho-butterfly-facts.html/.

Key References

  • “Butterflies: photonic crystals on the wing” – Department of Neurobiophysics, University of Groningen, the Netherlands . Accessed August 14, 2019. Link.
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  • “Blue Morpho” – Saint Luios Zoo. Accessed August 14, 2019. Link.
  • “Species Profile: Blue Morpho Butterfly (Morpho peleides) | Rainforest Alliance”. Accessed August 14, 2019. Link.
  • “biology: Butterflies taste with their feet”. Accessed August 14, 2019. Link.
  • “Home – Nanotech”. Accessed August 14, 2019. Link.
  • “Avoiding Attack: The Evolutionary Ecology of Crypsis, Warning Signals and Mimicry – PDF Free Download”. Accessed August 14, 2019. Link.
  • “Morpho Butterfly – Key Facts, Information & Habitat”. Accessed August 14, 2019. Link.
  • “Morpho peleides(Morpho or Emperor Butterfly)” – The Online Guide to the Animals of Trinidad and Tobago. Accessed August 14, 2019. Link.
  • “Caterpillars Turn to Cannibalism: Study | The Scientist Magazine®”. Accessed August 14, 2019. Link.
  • “The Life of Blue Morpho Butterflies – BUG UNDER GLASS”. Accessed August 14, 2019. Link.
  • “Page Currently Unavailable | Photonics.com”. Accessed August 14, 2019. Link.
  • “Butterfly Wings May Improve Airplane Wings | Inside Science”. Accessed August 14, 2019. Link.
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