Looking at the bright orange, black striped wings of the banded orange heliconian butterfly (Dryadula phaetusa), it’s clear how it got its name. With a delicate, fluttering flight this medium-sized butterfly is easy to spot because of its bright colors and preference for open areas.

Common and widespread from Mexico to Brazil and Bolivia, these butterflies are occasionally seen in Kansas and Texas. Hardly ever in forests, they favor open spaces, including forest clearings, pastures, and riverbanks.

The banded orange heliconian butterfly has relatively long and broad wings. When resting or basking in the sun, it holds its wings flat. When it feeds on nectar, it usually holds its wings up, revealing the underside. Like many butterfly species, the underwing has a different pattern from the upperwing. Unlike most other species, though, the banded orange heliconian’s underwing looks as eye-catching as the upper wing.

Scientists believe the butterfly’s bright colors serve as a warning to predatory birds to stay away. But the butterfly is likely a Batesian mimic—a species that imitates the color of similar, more poisonous species but is actually relatively harmless.

Banded orange heliconian butterflies are most active on warm, sunny days. On cooler, rainy days they typically roost in bushes and low vegetation until the weather improves.

Males have regular perching places, settling on a log or tree stump near the forest edge. They often will return repeatedly to the same perch after being disturbed. Just before dusk, the butterflies settle under the leaves of bushes, where they spend the night, frequently in small groups.

The banded orange heliconian butterfly population is secure and under no threat.

  1. What does the banded orange heliconian butterfly eat?

  2. What is Batesian mimicry, and how does the banded orange heliconian butterfly display it?

  3. What factors contribute to the banded orange heliconian butterfly species survival and success?

Batesian mimicry
Noun

form of mimicry in which a harmless species has evolved to imitate the warning signals of a harmful species.

forest
Noun

ecosystem filled with trees and underbrush.

nectar
Noun

sweet plant material that attracts pollinators.

predatory
Adjective

killing other animals for food.

underwing
Noun

underside of a bird's wing or the posterior wing of an insect.

upperwing
Noun

top portion of a bird's wing.

vegetation
Noun

all the plant life of a specific place.