Essential Guide to Metalmark Butterflies: Facts and Insights

Metalmark butterflies are a diverse group of small, colorful insects known for their intricate wing patterns and unique life cycles. One well-known example is the Lange’s Metalmark Butterfly, which boasts brown and orange wings adorned with white spots. These butterflies can be found in a variety of habitats, including the Antioch Dunes in California, home to the Lange’s Metalmark Butterfly.

Interestingly, there are several regional variations of Metalmark butterflies, such as the Little Metalmark found in the southeastern coastal plain of the United States, and the Swamp Metalmark native to Alabama. Each species has distinct features, wing spans, and preferred habitats, making the world of Metalmark butterflies an exciting area of study for enthusiasts and researchers alike.

Classification and Characteristics

Riodinidae Family

Riodinidae is a family of butterflies commonly known as Metalmark Butterflies. This family consists of around 146 genera with diverse morphology and coloration. Some key features of these butterflies are:

  • Adult butterflies have a small to medium wingspan
  • Coloration varies between species, often metallic in appearance
  • Sexual dimorphism is common

Metalmark Butterflies

Metalmark Butterflies, belonging to the Riodinidae family, exhibit unique characteristics and can be found in various regions across the world. Here are some examples of well-known Metalmark Butterflies:

  • Lange’s Metalmark Butterfly: Known for its association with the Antioch Dunes in California, this butterfly species has faced a decline in numbers due to habitat destruction.
  • Swamp Metalmark: Found in alkaline wetlands, this endangered species has a two-week flight period between mid-July and mid-August.

Comparison Table

Characteristic Lange’s Metalmark Swamp Metalmark
Habitat Antioch Dunes Alkaline Wetlands
Wingspan Small Small
Coloration Metallic orange-red Metallic brown and gray
Status Endangered Endangered

In conclusion, the Riodinidae family consists of diverse Metalmark Butterflies with unique characteristics and appearances.


Life Cycle and Reproduction

Eggs and Miridontology

Metalmark butterflies, such as the Mormon metalmark, begin their life as eggs. These eggs are typically laid on the underside of leaves of their host plants. For example:

  • Calephelis: eggs are laid on host plants

In the case of the Mormon metalmark, a host plant can be Antioch Dunes.

Larval Stage

When the eggs hatch, caterpillars (larvae) emerge. These caterpillars usually feed on the leaves of their host plants. Caterpillars undergo several stages known as instars to grow in size, and their appearance may change with each stage. A couple of characteristics include:

  • Gregarious: Caterpillars might be found together
  • Host Plants: They feed on specific plants like milkweeds for monarchs

Pupal Stage

After completing the larval stage, the caterpillar enters the pupal stage. In this stage, the caterpillar forms a chrysalis, which is a protective shell. Inside the chrysalis, the caterpillar undergoes a transformation into a butterfly.

Stage Description
Egg Laid on host plants, often on leaf undersides
Larva Feeds on host plant leaves, goes through instars
Pupa Forms a chrysalis, changes into a butterfly

Once the metamorphosis is complete, the adult butterfly emerges from the chrysalis and begins the life cycle anew.

Habitat and Ecological Interactions

Range and Habitat Variation

Metalmark butterflies are found in a variety of habitats, from wetlands to forests. The Lange’s Metalmark, for example, is almost exclusively found in the Antioch Dunes National Wildlife Refuge, established for its protection. These butterflies can also be found in regions like New Jersey, where the Fatal Metalmark thrives. They prefer flowering plants and foliage, with some species requiring specific plants as caterpillar food sources.

Ant Symbiosis

Some Metalmark butterfly species have fascinating relationships with ants. Their caterpillars produce sweet secretions, attractive to ants that in return, provide protection to the caterpillars against predators, forming a mutually beneficial interaction in the ecosystem.

Predators and Threats

Predators of Metalmark butterflies can include insects, birds, and small mammals. However, threats from human activities such as habitat loss and invasive plants have significant impacts on their populations. Many Metalmark species are currently endangered due to habitat destruction and changes in their ecological interactions.

Pros of Ant Symbiosis:

  • Protection against predators
  • Increased chances of survival for caterpillars

Cons of Ant Symbiosis:

  • Caterpillars are dependent on ants for defense

Comparison table between Lange’s Metalmark and Fatal Metalmark butterflies:

Feature Lange’s Metalmark Fatal Metalmark
Habitat Antioch Dunes New Jersey, wetlands
Conservation Status Endangered Least Concern
Hindwing Markings Red-orange, black spots White spots, black border
Relationship with Ants Symbiotic caterpillars No known symbiosis

By understanding the ecological interactions and habitats of Metalmark butterflies, we can better contribute to their conservation and appreciate their role as pollinators in various ecosystems.

Feeding and Behavior

Adult Diet and Nectar Sources

Metalmark butterflies, like other butterfly species, primarily feed on nectar from flowering plants. They use their long proboscis to extract nectar from various flowers, providing them with essential nutrients for energy and reproduction. Some nectar sources for metalmarks include:

  • Asters
  • Goldenrods
  • Milkweeds

Caterpillar Host Plants

Metalmark caterpillars have specific host plants they rely on for food. For example, the Lange’s metalmark butterfly caterpillar feeds on the naked-stemmed buckwheat plant found in their native Antioch Dunes habitat.

Flower Selection

When it comes to flower selection, metalmark butterflies exhibit some preferences. They are more likely to visit flowers with certain features, such as:

  • Bright colors (e.g., red, orange, and yellow)
  • Flat or clustered shapes
  • Abundant nectar production

Metalmark butterflies benefit from their flower-visiting behavior as they act as pollinators, helping plants reproduce while obtaining vital nutrients for themselves.

Feeding Habits Comparison: Metalmark and Skipper Butterflies

Here is a comparison table of the feeding habits of metalmark and skipper butterflies:

Feature Metalmark Butterfly Skipper Butterfly
Main Food Source Flower nectar Flower nectar
Nectar Preferences Bright, flat, or clustered flowers Often prefers flowers with tubular shapes
Caterpillar Host Plants Plant species specific to each metalmark type Various grasses and related plants

By understanding these feeding habits and behavior of metalmark butterflies, we can better appreciate their ecological role and importance in maintaining the health of their habitats.

Conservation and Human Impact

Threatened Species

Metalmark butterflies face various threats, including habitat loss due to urbanization and agriculture. Some species are considered endangered, such as the Lange’s Metalmark Butterfly. Invasive plants can negatively affect their habitat, making it harder for these butterflies to thrive.

Habitat Restoration

To counter these threats, habitat restoration efforts are underway. These include:

  • Planting native vegetation to provide food and shelter
  • Controlling invasive plant species
  • Preserving open spaces and natural habitats

Restoring habitats helps to maintain a healthy ecosystem and supports the survival of Metalmark butterflies.

Conservation Efforts

Various mitigation measures are being implemented to protect Metalmark butterflies, including:

  • Reforestation projects to reestablish their natural habitats
  • Monitoring populations and tracking their movements
  • Captive breeding and reintroduction programs

By implementing these conservation efforts, we can help ensure the survival of these beautiful and ecologically important butterflies.

Features of Metalmark butterflies:

  • Bright, metallic markings on wings
  • Fast, erratic flight patterns
  • Small to medium size

Characteristics of endangered Metalmark butterflies:

  • Limited range or distribution
  • Highly specific habitat requirements
  • Population decline or fragmentationdue to habitat loss

Comparison of habitat restoration and conservation efforts:

Habitat Restoration Conservation Efforts
Focus on recreating habitats Focus on protecting populations
Can benefit multiple species Targeted towards specific species
May include plant restoration May include captive breeding
Focused on invasive species control Focused on mitigating threats

Overall, the conservation and human impact on Metalmark butterflies highlight the importance of sustainable management and preserving ecosystem health to ensure the continued survival of these unique and captivating insects.

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Butterfly from Ecuador is Metalmark

Subject: Ecuadorian beauty
Location: 3 hrs NW of Quito, Ecuador
February 2, 2017 12:21 pm
Hi Guys,
I read your site daily though I haven’t contributed for some time. This very small butterfly was photographed in Ecuador last month. I would love to know what it is.
Thank you,
Signature: Dwaine


Dear Dwaine,
We tried to determine the identity of this delicately pretty butterfly for some time, to no avail, however we strongly suspect it may be a Satyr in the subfamily Satyrinae because of the prominent eyespots visible on its wings.  Though BugGuide only has images of North American species, you can see the similarities.  Satyrs are often brown or muted in color, though the subfamily also includes the brilliantly colored Morphos that also have eyespots, but on the undersides of the wings.  Most images of Satyrs online depict the butterflies at rest with wings folded and the undersides visible, which might be contributing to the difficulty we are having identifying your Ecuadorian beauty.

Correction Courtesy of Karl
Hello Daniel and Dwaine:
There are also quite a few neotropical metalmark butterflies (Riodinidae) that have prominent eyespots, usually on the forewings. This one looks a lot like a Lasus Metalmark (Perophthalma lasus). However, that species has a documented range that only goes as far south as Panama. The only species within this genus that is reported from Ecuador is the Tullius Metalmark (Perophthalma tullius), also quite similar. Regards, Karl  

Letter 2 – Mantus Metalmark from Guyana

Subject: Guyana butterfly
Location: Guyana rainforest
February 12, 2014 5:46 pm
I saw the butterfly in the attached picture in Guyana in January. Any idea what it is?
Thank you.
Signature: KRB

Diurnal Moth we believe
Mantus Metalmark

We don’t believe this is a butterfly, but we do believe it is a member of the same order, Lepidoptera.  We believe this is a diurnal moth, but our famous search engine which begins with a G does not work as well any longer and we have not been able to find any matching images.

Probably Diurnal Moth
Mantus Metalmark

Correction Courtesy of Karl
Hi Daniel and KRB:
Although it does look rather moth-like, this is actually a butterfly. It’s a Mantus Metalmark, Nymphidium mantus, another of those amazing neotropical Metalmark butterflies (Riodinidae). The subfamily is Riodininae, and according to the Butterflies of America site the species ranges from Costa Rica to Venezuela & Brazil. Regards.  Karl

Letter 3 – Metalmark from Costa Rica

Subject: Costa Rican Black with blue butterfly
Location: north east Costa Rica
October 7, 2015 10:58 am
I can’t identify this beautiful butterfly (moth?) I saw near the Braulio Carrillo National Park in Costa Rica. Help?
Signature: Maroland

Lyra Metalmark

Dear Maroland,
We believe we have correctly identified your lovely butterfly as a Lyra Metalmark,
Lyropteryx lyra cleadas, or a closely related species, thanks to the Butterflies of America website.  There are also some nice images on the Neotropical Butterflies site.

Hi Daniel and Maroland:
I believe it may be a similar metalmark, the White-dashed Metalmark (Necyria duellona ssp.) The species shows considerable variability, but the white rays on the forewings never extend to the wing tips as they do in Lyropteryx lyra. Regards, Karl

Thanks for that link Karl.  It must be getting cold in your neck of the woods.  We love getting your comments and corrections.

Letter 4 – Sarota Jewelmark from Ecuador

Unusual Metalmark Butterfly from Ecuador
Location:  Ecuador
January 24, 2013
Hi Daniel. This second offering is of one of the appropriately named Sarota Jewelmarks, a group of 18 or so flashy little metalmarks (Riodinidae: Riodininae: Helicopini) from Central and South America. In addition to diminutive size, they all share characteristically dark brown or grey upper sides and carry all their colors on the underside. This individual is a Lasciva Sarota (Sarota lasciva) and it is apparently more rare and/or elusive than most. They are fast and erratic flyers and the males tend to be quite pugnacious in defence of their territory. Since they live in the tropical lowlands, in the upper Amazon basin in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Brazil, the improbably ‘furry’ little legs can’t be for warmth. I read somewhere that similar hairiness in some lepidopterans aids in the distribution of sexual pheromones, so perhaps that is it. For reference, this one was about the size of my pinky fingernail. Thanks for the site and keep up the great work. Regards. Karl

Sarota Jewelmark

Thanks so much Karl,
Butterflies of America has photos of mounted
Sarota lasciva that show the “dark brown or grey upper sides” and Neotropical Butterflies has an image that looks very similar to your photo.  Butterflies of Amazonia has a beautiful photo of a mating pair of another species in the genus and much information, including:  “The Sarota Jewelmarks are possibly the cutest butterflies in the world. They have a very rapid and erratic flight. When seen buzzing about in the early morning they can easily be mistaken for small flies. Eventually they settle however and reveal themselves as creatures of exquisite beauty, with bright orange undersides streaked with metallic silver; and cute little furry legs !  The genus Sarota was reviewed in 1998 by Jason Hall, who recognises a total of 20 species, found variously from Mexico to Bolivia, with the highest concentration in Ecuador. It has been estimated that certain locations along the base of the eastern Andes each hold up to 15 species. Most of them are extremely rare and elusive – so much so that only that even the most experienced observers rarely manage to see more than half a dozen species in a lifetime.”  

Letter 5 – Metalmark from Brazil

Subject:  Butterfly in South Brazil
Geographic location of the bug:  Florianópolis SC Brazil
Date: 04/17/2019
Time: 10:13 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Dear Mr. Bugman, it is fall and there are beautiful asteraceae flowering. I found this beautiful butterfly feeding on one Eupatorium inulifolium (I think) and would like your help with its identification please.
How you want your letter signed:  Carolina

Metalmark we believe

Dear Carolina,
We actually believe this is a diurnal Moth and not a butterfly, but we have not been able to locate any similar looking Brazilian specimens.  We need to do more research, and perhaps Cesar Crash or one of our other readers will recognize this beauty and write in with an identification.

Oh! Thanks for posting! Will standby for this moth ID.

Update:  Metalmark Butterfly
Two different readers wrote in identifying this as a Metalmark Butterfly in the family Riodinidae.  The closest match was found by Cesar Crash on Butterflies of America.

Oh thank you so much Daniel.


  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

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  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

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7 thoughts on “Essential Guide to Metalmark Butterflies: Facts and Insights”

  1. This is a very puzzling creature. It’s very distintive, but I don’t remember I have ever seen this species, and can’t find anything similar. Perhaps she has more images, where we can see the ventral side.

    • Thanks Cesar. There was a second image, but also a dorsal view. I will write and see if there are any additional images. I thought it resembled a Fruit Piercing Moth and I’m guessing it might be family Erebidae.

  2. Could this be in Riodinidae, maybe genus Caria or Symmachia? The body shape seems right, and the indentation on the forewing costal margin also matches. But the forewing tips don’t seem to match; they’re more pointed than Caria species seem to be.


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