Blue Morpho

Blue_Morpho_(Morpho_sp.)_(5617543470)

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The blue morpho butterfly is a large and beautiful insect living in the rainforests of South and Central America. These butterflies, once you’ve seen one, are not hard to recognize. The surprising thing is, these insects are not actually blue. No, I’m not trying to say they’re red or something like that, but the blue morpho butterfly’s wings are not actually colored blue. The scales on the wings (all butterfly wings have tiny scales on them) have tiny ridges that reflect only the blue light. If you were to look very closely at one of these scales, it would not appear blue at all. Only the tops of the wings look bright blue. The bottoms are a dull brown, making these insects look like a completely different butterfly when its wings are closed. The picture below shows what this looks like. If the butterflies are not able to escape predators using the camouflage of their brown wings, the big, middle eye spot on each wing will hopefully scare away predators.

800px-Blue_morpho

Size

Although by no means the largest butterfly in the world, the blue morpho is larger than most butterflies you will normally see in the wild. The smallest blue morphos have a wingspan of about three inches (7.5 cm). Larger individuals can have up to an eight inch (20 cm) wingspan.

Diet

Because this animal is a butterfly, it does not eat. No, that does not mean it doesn’t need food, it just means that the morpho butterfly, as with others, drinks its food through a proboscis instead of eating it. Typically we associate butterflies with eating  drinking nectar from flowers and other sweet things. While the morpho butterfly does drink sweet liquids like sap and fruit juices, they also consume some less appetizing liquids. This includes the juice of fermenting fruits, fungus juices, and bodily fluids of dead animals. Yuck!

Butterflies and counterfeit money

I mentioned earlier about the unique scales on the blue morpho butterfly. These have inspired a new way to make counterfeit-proof currency. If governments use a substance like this butterfly’s scales (reflecting a certain color of light at the right angle), they can make money almost impossible to counterfeit! Amazing how this little butterfly is unknowingly thwarting counterfeiters.

Habitat and range

The blue morpho butterfly lives in North America, Central America, and South America. They live as far north as Mexico, south through Central America, and they inhabit some of the northern-most countries of South America. Blue morpho butterflies live almost anywhere in this range that there are rain forests. Adults usually spend their time in the under story, the bottom layer of the rain forest. When they looking for a mate, however, they can fly all the way up to the top layer. Sometimes swarms of blue morphos can be seen sunning themselves above the treetops. Some pilots have even reported seeing the brilliant blue of the morpho butterfly while they were flying their plane overhead. This is only if the butterflies are close enough together, and maybe only if the pilots were in low-flying planes.

Status and threats

The blue morpho is not classified by any main animal status corporation. Habitat destruction, such as deforestation, and pollution are the main threats of morpho butterflies. They are also collected for use in decorative pieces of art. Their main natural predators are birds.

Protection

Both adult blue morphos and their caterpillars have special ways of protection. First of all, the caterpillars eat certain plant parts that contain poisonous chemicals. These do not harm the caterpillar, but it can deter predators from eating these insects. The adults, both males and females, can release a strong odor from a gland between their front legs. The stink is hoped to repel predators. The bright blue of the morpho’s wings also helps distract predators. As the butterfly is flying away, the sudden flashes of blue as the buetterfly opens and closes its wings distract the predator. This is because the flashes appear in a different place each time!

Reproduction and metamorphosis

Not much is known specifically about the mating habits of this butterfly, but their life-cycle is more common knowledge. As with all butterflies, morphos have four main life stages. The first of these is the egg stage. These small eggs are pale green in color. From the eggs hatch caterpillars, which represent the larva stage. Below is a picture of blue morpho caterpillars. As you can see they look nothing like the adults. These caterpillars are reddish-brown with patches of lime green, which helps them blend in with patches of both live and dead leaves. The hairs on the caterpillars irritate the skin of would-be predators. After the caterpillars have consumed enough plant material, they form a protective chrysalis. This starts their pupae (pyo͞opə) stage of development. After a currently unknown amount of time, the chrysalis breaks, and out comes a blue morpho butterfly. This represents the fourth and final form of this insect: the adult. The entire life of one of these insects, from when their egg hatches to when they die, is just about 140 days. Only about one month of this time is spent as an adult.

800px-Blue_Morpho_Caterpillar

Don’t forget to scroll down and comment your guess about what the next animal is!

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Sources:

 

Photo credits:

  • Blue morpho – caspar s
  • Blue morpho brown -Public Domain
  • Blue morpho caterpillar – emmills1
  • Mystery animal – Zac Wolf

One Response

  1. Charis Dwire
    Charis Dwire at |

    I know what it is. Pretty picture!

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