Butterfly Wing Scale Digital Image Gallery
Painted Jezebel Butterfly
Brightly decorated females are responsible for the colorful and somewhat scandalous common name of painted jezebel butterflies. The extremely diverse species has dozens of endemic subspecies on islands in the Pacific Ocean. Unlike many caterpillars, which are considered agricultural pests, the painted jezebel butterfly larvae are classified as beneficial insects based on their diet of tree parasites.
Butterflies are believed to have gained their common name from the brimstone butterfly which, in England, was historically known as the butter colored fly. Yet, the painted jezebel butterfly is a far cry from butter colored. The females flaunt brilliant hues of yellow and red contrasted by bold black veins on a white background. The species, however, displays a striking amount of sexual dimorphism in regards to wing coloration. Males are often paler and have less black on their wings than the females and, in some subspecies, are almost entirely white.
Native to India, Southeast Asia and the South Pacific Islands, the painted jezebel butterfly is the most diverse species in its genus with 20 described subspecies. As a lofty flier with a nonchalant flight pattern and a slow wing beat, painted jezebels confidently display their colors to potential predators. Scientifically described as Delias hyparete, the daring butterflies are usually observed near the tree canopy level, but on occasion feed on nectaring flowers closer to the ground. Sometimes, while visiting open woods and gardens, the painted jezebel butterfly will gather nectar even during foreboding weather and at dusk, behavior that is highly unusual for most butterfly species.
Similar to the adult butterflies, larval and pupal painted jezebels wear a warning coloration to announce their toxicity to potential predators. Feeding on the tree parasites known as mistletoe, the gregarious caterpillars acquire phytotoxins from their host plants, which they carry for protection for the rest of their lives. The larvae that hatch from the creamy yellow eggs begin as small, hairy larvae with black heads and pale yellow bodies. Gregarious in nature, the caterpillar siblings feed on the upper surface of leaves, defoliating the host mistletoe. Later instars quickly grow and develop the bright black and yellow coloring that serves as a cautionary sign to other species. At pupation, individual caterpillars break from the pack and spin a pupal case that retains the yellow and black warning pattern and is covered with stumpy spikes.
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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