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Butterfly Wing Scale Digital Image Gallery

Malachite Butterfly

Malachite is a semi-precious green gemstone and the malachite butterfly is so-named because of the pale green translucent patches visible on the upper sides of its wings. Sexual dimorphism is so pronounced in malachite butterflies that the larger and more lightly colored females are sometimes mistakenly placed in different subspecies than the males of their populations.

Although its hind wings feature tails, the malachite butterfly is not in the swallowtail butterfly family. Instead, malachites are members of the brush-footed butterfly family and are scientifically described as Siproeta stelenes. In South and Central America, the malachite butterfly frequents subtropical evergreen and deciduous forests, while in southern Florida, mango, avocado, and citrus orchards are its regular haunts. In Jamaica and Cuba, malachite butterflies may be observed on mountain slopes sipping nectar from the white flowers of coffee plants. In fact, malachites are considered one of the most common butterflies of coffee, tea, and cocoa plantations. Sometimes the fast, powerful, fliers will feed all day long, soaring to great heights to visit their favorite blooms.

Malachite butterflies are frequently accused of impersonating other butterfly species. Some lepidopterists claim that malachite butterflies are mimics of the scare bamboo page butterfly. However, their microhabitats differ, which would decrease the advantage of the mimicry. Such a strategy might be successful against birds that move easily between habitat types, but cannot be as effective with less mobile predators. Other lepidopterists argue that malachite adults mimic the toxic zebra longwing butterflies and, when flying, convey their image, only faster.

Adult female malachite butterflies lay their small, dark green eggs singly on the newest growth of host plant leaves. The plants they choose are often petunias, shrimp plants, cafetin and black-eyed Susans. The small, young caterpillars feed and rest on the host leaves from below. As they mature, the malachite larvae grow into a rich, velvety black with red bristles between their body segments and spined horns on their heads. The red and black coloring helps identify the caterpillars as unpalatable to potential predators. When disturbed, the caterpillars spit a green fluid and the spines of the older larvae create a rash upon human skin when touched.

Malachite Butterfly Images in Brightfield Illumination

Scales Separated From Wing - Delicate piles of scales separated from the wing of a malachite butterfly are featured in this stunning photomicrograph. The brightfield illumination gives the image an ephemeral appearance.

Malachite Butterfly Images in Darkfield Illumination

Wing Scale Array (Low Magnification) - This beautiful darkfield image was captured under low magnification. A rough texture and a medley of scale colors are displayed.

Wing Scale Array (Medium Magnification) - This colorful image is an increased magnification of the previous photomicrograph. The scales have more definition but are still difficult to discern individually.

Wing Scale Array (High Magnification) - This darkfield image was taken under high magnification and reveals the details of malachite butterfly wing scale texture. Also, the small structures featured here appear to have a blunted end, rather than the ridges characteristic of many butterfly scales.

Malachite Butterfly Images in Reflected Light

Edge of Wing (Low Magnification) - The edge of a malachite's wing displayed in this image was captured under a lower level of magnification than the photomicrograph presented above. The scales along its border appear feathery and elongate.

Golden Wing Scales - Reflected light shimmers from the surface of numerous rows of golden wing scales in this photomicrograph and the beauty of the malachite butterfly is admirably displayed.

Green Wing Scale Marking (Low Magnification) - The characteristic pale green markings of the malachite butterfly are clearly apparent in this low magnification reflected light image. A pair of wing veins and several colors of brightly hued wing scales can also be seen.

Green Wing Scale Marking (Low to Medium Magnification) - This image is an increased magnification of the previous photomicrograph. The pale green wing marking becomes more prominent in the smaller field of view.

Green Wing Scale Marking (Medium Magnification) - This image is an even greater magnification of a typical malachite butterfly green wing scale patch. The shimmery scales have an opalescent quality.

Green Wing Scale Marking (High Magnification) - A high level of magnification was used to capture this example of a malachite's green wing marking. Reflected light brightly gleams from the surface of the scales.

Contributing Authors

Cynthia D. Kelly, Shannon H. Neaves, Laurence D. Zuckerman, and Michael W. Davidson - National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, 1800 East Paul Dirac Dr., The Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida, 32310.


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