Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Creature Feature: Clearwing Butterfly.

Ah, butterflies. To most people, they're the epitome of innocence. In literature, they almost always symbolize change. There's nothing strange about most butterflies. Then, well, there are those...other...butterflies.

It may take you a bit to see precisely what is wrong with this butterfly. Then you realize that, woah, most butterflies have opaque wings. Congrats; you have just met your first clearwing/glasswing butterfly.

There are over 300 species and 43 genera of clearwing butterflies. No, they do not eat the flesh of small children, but dying flowers are fair game. They are native to the Amazon, a major biodiversity hotspot, as well as Mexico and Central America. We knew they were pretty, but there are videos on YouTube advertising them as the work of Jehovah.

As the name implies, the wings of clearwings lack the scales that makes other butterfly wings so colorful. Some clearwings have almost no scales on their wings; others have 'windows' of clear skin scattered between the scales like stained glass. If you think about it, no matter how good those scales are at camouflage, they will never be able to measure up to the ultimate camouflage of being transparent.

But wait, there's more! Along with being translucent, some clearwings (remember: this is a very big tribe) have a taste to them that is so bad that the scent is noticeable by humans. One scientist named Thomas Belt proved exactly how effective it was by feeding clearwings to almost everything that ate them - monkeys, spiders, birds, you name it - and every time, they were rejected. The secret was in the adult butterflies' diets. The chemicals from, I kid you not, dead plants and daisies are enough to repel most predators. Crazy.

Some species of clearwing, most notably Greta oto, have been observed mating in leks. This means that, just like certain birds and bats, the males 'fight' with each other. In any other type of butterfly, this would be a sight to see. With clearwings, however, it must look a little less spectacular in the air. Then again, it would probably be the only time one could ever see fairies fight.

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