Gossamer Tapestry

Reflections on conservation, butterflies, and ecology in the nation's heartland

Friday, May 28, 2010

Jungle Cucumbers and Longwings

A longwing butterfly (Heleconius erato) visits a jungle cucumber (Psiguria umbrosa) flower

Longwing butterflies- species in the genus Heliconius- are a particularly important group in Butterfly Haven. Look out over the Haven at any time, and most of what you see in flight will be any of the dozen or so species that we fly. They do more than just about any other butterfly species in our exhibit to provide the interest that comes from motion and flutter.

The wall of jungle cucumbers in Butterfly Haven

We like to keep out butterflies healthy and living long lives. Generally this includes providing adequate sources of nectar for them. We carry this one step further with our longwings. Through their evolutionary history, these butterflies have developed a mutualistic relationship with Jungle Cucumbers- plants in the genera Psiguria and Gurania that are relatives of garden cucumbers.

Tiger Longwing (Heliconius hecale)
You can see the whitish pollen packed onto the proboscis

Longwings are the major pollinators of Jungle Cukes. The relationship is mutualistic, because the longwings get something in return for providing this service- and in this case it's more than the typical reward of floral nectar. Longwings can extract nutrients from pollen. A longwing will pack the pollen onto its proboscis and absorb vitamins, amino acids, and alkaloids. The pollen provides superior nutrition to nectar. Longwings that have access to this resource will live several months, as opposed to the roughly two weeks that is typical for most adult butterflies. We make sure that we always have blooming Psiguria in Butterfly Haven. In addition to keeping our longwings happy, it means that we get the maximum display time from them.

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At 18:36, OpenID liliannattel said...

That first photograph is exquisite. I'm glad to find out more about these butterflies.

At 02:43, Blogger wcs said...


At 17:41, Blogger Ur-spo said...

very sensible planning, that.

At 11:15, Blogger rodger said...

Nice photography! You just get better and better...and no...I didn't read that on the wall in the mens room...as you'd expect.


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