Story Behind the Science
When at rest, blue morpho butterflies may look rather drab and normal, but when they spread their wings, they display a dazzling, iridescent blue coloring that is both beautiful and shocking. This is why morpho butterflies flash their wings at predators to scare them away. While morphos feed and sleep, they hide their colorful outer surface. The undersides of their wings are usually brown with multiple eyespots that act as camouflage, allowing them to blend in with their surroundings.
Their glittering blue color is created as a result of light hitting the many tiny scales that cover the morpho butterfly’s wings. These butterflies can typically be found on the forest floor and in the rainforest’s understory, but male morphos can also be found flying throughout all layers of the forests, as well as above it, while searching for a mate.
Like so many other butterflies of the tropical rainforests, morpho butterflies are severely threatened by deforestation and habitat fragmentation. Perhaps their biggest threat is humans, who are often attracted to the morpho because of its stunning blue wings. Morphos are captured and displayed for their beauty and are commonly used as decorative items.
One way to stimulate the conservation of butterflies has been the creation of butterfly farms, an unusual but exciting cash crop. Through butterfly farming, these insects usually live their entire lives in captivity. Because butterflies are “farmed” in large quantities, they can be exported for multiple uses, whether for collection, scientific study, gardening or additional farming. It is more beneficial to farm butterflies than to net them in the wild for many different reasons. First of all, it’s simply easier. Additionally, more of these insects can survive, and they are more likely to be in perfect condition. Butterfly farming also has the potential to offer useful scientific information and even educate visitors and enhance local tourism. The practice of butterfly farming may be great for people, but more importantly it’s favorable for butterflies and their conservation.
Did You Know?
- Morphos, like all other butterflies, taste their food with sensors on their legs. Their antennae act as both a tongue and a nose, allowing them to taste and smell the air.Learn More »
- The full lifespan of a morpho butterfly lasts only 115 days.Learn More »
- “Morpho” is representative of the goddess of love and beauty, Aphrodite from Greek mythology (the same goddess of Roman mythology is known as Venus). The word “morpho” also means “modified” or “changed.”Learn More »
- Morpho caterpillars are often cannibalistic, meaning they sometimes eat each other. They also have little hairs that help protect them from some predators and irritate human skin.Learn More »
- A caterpillar’s first meal is its own eggshell.Learn More »
- There’s a greater diversity of butterfly species in the Costa Rica alone than there is in the entire continent of Africa.Learn More »
|Compare & Contrast||Morpho Butterflies||Butterflies of Costa Rica|
|How many species?||Around 80||Around 1,250|
|Where do they occur?||Morphos can be found in the tropical rainforests of Central and South America, though they are most abundant in Costa Rica.||In Costa Rica and nearby surrounding areas|
|What do they eat?||As caterpillars, they eat flowers and leaves. As full-grown butterflies, they drink fluids of decomposing plants and animals, rotting fruits, fungi, tree sap and wet mud.||Caterpillars eat the leaves of plants, while adults drink their foods since they each have a tube-like mouthpart called a proboscis. Adults generally feed on nectar of flowers, but some species prefer sipping the liquids of rotting fruits or even fluids of rotting animal flesh.|
|Do they have predators?||Birds, large insects, fish and humans||Humans, birds, snakes, frogs, toads, spiders, hornets, dragonflies, crickets, wasps, ants and other bugs|
Botanischer Garten Uni Basel, “Hatching of Blue Morpho Butterflies (Morpho Peleides)”
Conservation Organizations for Butterflies & the Amazon
- Butterfly Conservation: Saving Butterflies, Moths and Our Environment
- Butterfly Conservation, The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation
- The Butterfly Conservation Initiative
- Butterfly Conservatory
- Amazon Conservation Association
- The Amazon Conservation Team
- Five Ways You Can Help Protect the Amazon, World Wildlife Fund