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Butterfly Wing Scale Digital Image Gallery

Variable Eggfly Butterfly

The variable eggfly butterfly mimics the high contrast black and white wing coloration of three poisonous species of friar butterfly. Wide-ranging in tropical Africa, the variable eggfly and the other members of its mimetic ring are often found flying in mixed groups. Belonging to the family Nymphalidae, variable eggfly butterflies have a highly modified front pair of legs that are used for tasting, rather than walking.

Both palatable and unpalatable butterflies can benefit from participating in mimicry rings. Associated with open areas near forests, the variable eggfly butterfly mimics the design of noxious butterflies, but is itself harmless. The species and other edible butterflies in mimetic rings are able to deter predators with their appearance without synthesizing metabolically costly toxins. Toxic butterflies also benefit from sharing colors with other poisonous species because predators more quickly associate the appearance with negative consequences.

Described scientifically as Hypolimnas anthedon, variable eggfly butterflies are a distinct species that are characterized by specific traits in each of its life stages. The range of the butterflies stretches from the island of Madagascar to the Atlantic Ocean, along Africa's west coast. Variable eggfly adults are characterized by large wings and a slow, graceful flight with long glides. The caterpillars are not so refined, but noisily and rapaciously feed on leaves of stinging nettles in three different African genera. The larvae display a warning coloration, as do the adults, and their primarily black bodies are covered with bright red spines. Variable eggfly chrysalides also display spines, but have a brown, rugged appearance that blends in well with tree trunks, branches, and dried leaves.

Collectors are particularly interested in variable eggfly butterflies and others in its mimetic rings. The species and its associates are raised on butterfly farms in Africa for international markets. The butterflies are part of environmentally friendly sustainable economic development in impoverished portions of eastern and southern Africa, where ecotourism and forest-dependent butterfly farming are rising in popularity. Nature reserves in Kenya, which ban butterfly harvesting, act as refuges for the variable eggfly and its allies. In other areas, however, rampant habitat destruction due to overlogging, overgrazing, intensive farming, and urban encroachment threaten subspecies and local populations of this exotic tropical butterfly.

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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