Location: 75 n.miles offshore Angola, Africa
April 13, 2011 5:00 am
Dear Mr. Bugman,
Can you help me with the name of this beauty? We see a few of them at my workplace offshore West Afrika, especially at this time of the year.
Our first attempts to identify your butterfly, a Brush Footed Butterfly in the family Nymphalidae, did not prove very successful, but we found an online book, Ivor Migdoll’s field guide to the butterflies of southern Africa, and on pages 59-61, there are photographs of the life cycle of Hypolimnas misippus. We learned that the males and females are sexually dimorphic, meaning they appear quite different from one another, and that your butterfly is a male. Additional research once we had a scientific name led us to the Butterflies of Guadeloupe and Martinique where we found some nice photos and the explanation: “This species comes from the Old World, where females are mimics of the African Monarch, Danaus chrysippus (Linnaeus). It may have been introduced via the slave trade, H. misippus is probably not a permanent resident in all islands where it has been observed.” We also learned that the female is polymorphic, meaning that there are multiple variations of the coloration of the female, described as: “Females of Hypolimnas misippus show a remarkable polymorphism whereas the males are monomorphic. All four female morphs are mimics of morphs of Danaus chrysippus, and genetics of female forms, male preferences and survival capabilities have been studied in Africa (review in D.A.S. Smith, in The Biology of Butterflies, 1984, R.I. Vane-Wright & P.R. Ackery eds, Academic Press, London). Two female forms only occur in tropical America, f. misippus and f. inaria (Cramer), the latter being very rare according to Riley. In Guadeloupe, f. inaria seems to be not so rare (the ratio misippus/inaria is 4/1 in Africa).” Though there are no photographs, the Butterflies and Moths of North America website does contain this information: “Upperside of male is purple-black with a large white patch on each wing. The most common form of the female is orange above; forewing has a black apical area divided by a band of white spots, hindwing has a black marginal band. The orange female mimics an African butterfly, Danaus chrysippus.” The caterpillar food plants are listed as: “Various plants in the mallow (Malvaceae), acanthus (Acanthaceae), morning glory (Convolvulaceae), and purslane (Portulacaceae) families” but the list does not include milkweed, the food plant for the Monarch. Since the sap of milkweed contains toxic compounds that are ingested by the caterpillar, and the presence in the adult Monarch of the compounds results in them being avoided by predators, the fact that the Mimic females may be mistaken for the Monarch affords them protection they would not normally have. The Butterflies of Africa page of the Learn about Butterflies website has nice photos of the female Mimic, and other common names like Danaid Eggfly, False Tiger and Diadem are provided. In addition to Africa and the Caribbean, the species is also found in Australia and you can find information on the ButterflyHouse website. Indications are the Mimic can also be found in Asia. Though this is not a Monarch, and though the photographs you supplied of the male do not even slightly resemble the Monarch, we are thrilled to have learned all of this fascinating information about the Mimic which impersonates the Monarch.