Meet the Backwards Butterfly

A few days ago, a colleague of mine was visiting. When I say colleague, I clearly mean friend that is also a biologist, but I like to pretend that we’re not just up all night drinking and talking about polyandry in frogs. Amidst the usual back and forth game of “no way…did you see that new species they found in wherever”, he mentioned a backwards butterfly. “Did you know about the butterfly that has coloration on its wings to make it look like it’s backwards?” …”uh…no…is that really a thing?”

Photo Credit:Rick Cech Tambopata Research Center, Peru
Photo Credit:Rick Cech
Tambopata Research Center, Peru

When my friend shared the picture I had no reply (which almost never happens). Damn. Evolution you are amazing. High five natural selection…high fives all around.

Behold the Zebra Hairstreak (Panthiades bathildis)… Not only are the stripes on the wings going the wrong way, but the ends of the wings look like antennae.

In the family Lycaenidae, the subfamily Theclinae includes hairstreaks, elfins and allies (seriously, those are the names). This group is a bit of a systematics nightmare, but in general the hairstreaks share the characteristic fake out antennae on their hindwings.

This is an example of self mimicry ,which is when part of the body mimics another part. Sometimes this results in huge scary eyespots on butterflies or a mimic caterpillar head on the rear. Self mimicry occurs basically to make the rear look like the front. In the majority of cases this functions to increase the animals survival. Surviving an attack to the rear is always easier than surviving an attack to the head (words to live by). In the case of the hairstreaks, it not only LOOKS like the back is the front, but their back wing movements (behavior) also reinforces the appearance.

Video taken from YouTube user sigmaHD1920 which you should check out for other stellar nature videos.

“Meet the…” is a collaboration between The Finch & Pea and Nature Afield to bring Nature’s amazing creatures into your home.

Author: Heidi Kay Smith

Biology PhD student on the cusp of finishing and moving on to a postdoc in the behavioral ecology of amphibians. I blog to share my thoughts, ideas, and general feelings of awe of the natural world.

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