There are about 39 species in the Heliconius genus, and they are sometimes known as the Brush-footed butterflies. They are found in tropical and sub-tropical America. The caterpillars eat passion flower vines. The adults have bright wing colouration to warn predators that they do not taste nice, and might even be poisonous. They also have long, straight antennae.
Above is the Red postman butterfly, Heliconius erato, which is also known as the Small postman, Red passion flower butterfly and the Crimson-patched longwing. The colour variations in the wings of this butterfly are huge, numbering about 29, and depend largely on location. It is found in Mexico, Brazil, Bolivia, Argentina, Peru, Panama, Guiana, Columbia, and Ecuador, at heights up to 2300 metres, in forest clearings, tracks, coffee plantations, orchards, gardens and in the forest itself. Individuals can sometimes be found as far north as south Texas. The variety above is Heliconius erato emma which is found in northeastern Peru.
The wingspan is 5.5 - 8.0 cm. Adults eat pollen and nectar, and roost in large groups at night. It is their ability to eat pollen that is thought to enable their prolonged life as adults with some living as long as nine months. Eggs are laid singly on the leaftip of passion flowers, and once hatched the caterpillars are highly cannibalistic. Just before the adult female emerges from her pupa she emits a pheromone which attracts males. These males battle each other to be able to mate with her. They are so eager to mate that often they do not even wait until her wings are expanded and dried. There have even been cases of the male breaking open the pupal case to get at the female's genitalia to mate before she has even emerged. After mating the male releases a repellant chemical on to the female's abdomen to prevent other males from mating.
Callicore eunomia, Eunomia eight-eight is above, it is native to upper Amazonia, i. e. Columbia, Guyana, Brazil, Peru and Bolivia, in tropical rain and cloud forest from 200 - 1600 m. Its wingspan is 30 - 40 mm. The butterfly gets its common name from the pattern on the underside of each hindwing, which looks like a figure 8. The twenty butterflies in this genus are commonly known as the numberwings or the eighty-eights because of this pattern. Unfortunately it is widely collected for the souvenir trade to make jewellery, place mats, etc. It has a rapid and powerful flight. The female lays her eggs singly on the foodplant.
Epiphile hubneri, Hubner's banner butterfly, above is found in Argentina and Brazil.
The Orange-spotted tiger clearwing, Mechanitis polymnia, above is found from Mexico south to the Amazon rainforest of Bolivia, in forest clearings, roadsides and farmland. Its wingspan is 65 - 75 mm, forewing length 31 - 40 mm. The photograph above shows a male. The female has similar markings except for the wide dark band across the hindwing, which is absent. Its antennae lack distinct clubs at the ends. It is common throughout its range.
The adults fly in the early morning and late afternoon. The males form leks and release pheromones to attract females. The female lays her eggs in batches of 10 - 40 on the underside of leaves of the foodplant (species of Solanum). The caterpillars feed in groups. There are four species in the genus, and all are either unpalatable or toxic to birds.
The Gulf fritillary, Agraulis vanillae, above is also sometimes known as the Passion butterfly. It is bright orange with a wingspan of 6.0 - 9.5 cm. The photograph above shows the underside of the butterfly. Adult females are usually larger than males. It migrates over the Gulf of Mexico giving it is common name. It is found in parks, gardens and open countryside from Argentina north through the Caribbean and up as far as the southern U.S. A. sometimes reaching San Francisco.
The caterpillar is also bright orange and covered in black spines. It feeds on passion flowers. The caterpillar is poisonous, and birds avoid it, but it is preyed upon by paper wasps and the praying mantis. The yellow eggs are laid singly on the food plant, and there can be multiple generations in a year.