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Butterfly Wing Scale Digital Image Gallery

Stinky Leaf Wing Butterfly

Although not considered a widely migrating species, stinky leaf wings are occasionally observed flying in huge mixed flocks of migratory butterflies. The robust lepidopterans scientifically classified as Historis odius are native to Central and South America and are island hoppers that can move from island to island in the Caribbean, establishing new populations. Similar to the proverbial fish that got away, the cryptic underside coloration of the species can make stinky leaf wing butterflies difficult to catch and tales are often told of near captures.

Alternatively known as the Orion, the stinky leaf wing butterfly is not always difficult to discern from its environment. The upper surfaces of its wings are a chocolate brown, highlighted by large inner panels of burnt orange that glow in the sunlight and a white spot that marks the apex of each forewing. Sturdy and stout, Orion the hunter is an apt namesake for these butterflies, which on occasion are observed playing in mock combat. Three or four of the swift insects often fly to great heights chased by an assailant and then, suddenly, break apart their formation and return to their bases, or perches, without injury. The sounds of males crashing into the vegetation of the forest canopy, as they chase other butterflies or birds for long distances and at great speeds, can be heard frequently in South America and suggests their tenacious territoriality.

In the larval stage, stinky leaf wing butterflies appear menacing and exhibit various self-protective behaviors. Early larval instars are white with three rows of black spines, a black head, and a short pair of coronal spines. As a guard against ants, which often inhabit the host plant, the young caterpillars produce frass chains along leaf edges. By the second and third instars, the stinky leaf wing caterpillar's head is reddish brown with black markings and features two coronal horns that are accompanied by several long white spines. The fully mature stinky leaf wing caterpillar has an enlarged black thorax that blends in with its small head and is marked by two large white false eyespots that can convey the image of a larger, more imposing animal. The caterpillar's body also displays a black and yellow warning coloration that indicates its unpalatable nature and menacing white-tipped spines that further guard the body from attack. If the caterpillar is threatened, a ventral neck gland, similar in function to the osmeteria of papilionid butterflies, may be everted to emit a defensive chemical.

After twenty days as a caterpillar, the stinky leaf wing enters the pupal stage. The red-brown chrysalis is elongate and sharply compressed laterally with a prominent dorsal ridge, two long, knobby horns, and a very broad cremaster, which terminates in a point. Lateral black bands on each side of the chrysalis indicate the location of the abdominal spiracles. When disturbed, the pupa wiggles like a fish out of water, thus explaining the local Costa Rican name pescadillo, meaning small fish, for this life stage of the butterfly species.

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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