The Amazon rain-forest is the most biodiverse environment on Earth, home to an incredible array of captivating Blue Morpho Butterfly and other creatures that truly have to be seen to be believed. Due to their size and striking beauty, blue morpho butterflies are one of the most emblematic and favorite of all Amazon species. They have a characteristic vivid blue color and shiny wings that reflect the light, making them easy to spot amidst the jungle canopy.
They are one of the largest butterflies in the world, measuring around six inches long and with wing spans of up to 20 centimetres.
They can be found throughout the forests of South and Central America, especially Brazil, Costa Rica and Venezuela, though their habitat also extends into North America. Read on to learn the top 8 Blue Morpho Butterfly facts…
Anatomy of Blue Morpho Butterfly
As its common name implies, the blue morpho butterfly’s wings are bright blue, edged with black. The blue morpho is among the largest butterflies in the world, with wings spanning from five to eight inches. Their vivid, iridescent blue coloring is a result of the microscopic scales on the backs of their wings, which reflect light.
The underside of the morpho’s wings, on the other hand, is a dull brown color with many eye-spots, providing camouflage against predators such as birds and insects when its wings are closed.
When the blue morpho flies, the contrasting bright blue and dull brown colors flash, making it look like the morpho is appearing and disappearing. The males’ wings are broader than those of the females and appear to be brighter in color. Blue morphos, like other butterflies, also have two clubbed antennas, two fore wings and two hind wings, six legs and three body segments—the head, thorax and abdomen.
Habitat of Blue Morpho Butterfly
Blue morphos live in the tropical forests of Latin America from Mexico to Colombia. Adults spend most of their time on the forest floor and in the lower shrubs and trees of the understory with their wings folded. However, when looking for mates, the blue morpho will fly through all layers of the forest. Humans most commonly see morphos in clearings and along streams where their bright blue wings are most visible.
Pilots flying over rainforests have even encountered large groups of blue morphos above the treetops, warming themselves in the sun. The blue morpho’s entire lifespan lasts only 115 days, which means most of their time is spent eating and reproducing.
Diet of Blue Morpho Butterfly
The blue morpho’s diet changes throughout each stage of its life-cycle. As a caterpillar, it chews leaves of many varieties, but prefers to dine on plants in the pea family. When it becomes a butterfly it can no longer chew, but drinks its food instead. Adults use a long, protruding mouth part called a proboscis as a drinking straw to sip the juice of rotting fruit, the fluids of decomposing animals, tree sap, fungi and wet mud.
Blue morphos taste fruit with sensors on their legs, and they “taste-smell” the air with their antennae, which serve as a combined tongue and nose.
Threats to Blue Morpho Butterfly
Blue morphos are severely threatened by deforestation of tropical forests and habitat fragmentation. Humans provide a direct threat to this spectacular creature because their beauty attracts artists and collectors from all over the globe who wish to capture and display them. Aside from humans, birds like the jacamar and flycatcher are the adult butterfly’s natural predators.
Blue Morpho Butterfly Information
The Blue Morpho Comprises of More Than One Species
The name “blue morpho” can actually be used to refer to any blue butterfly of the genus “morpho” which are part of the larger Nymphalidae family. There are also numerous other morpho species, which number 29 in total, including the brown, green and incredibly rare white butterflies. The name “morpho” is thought to originate from the fact that these butterflies appear to change shape as they’re flying.
What’s more, the term “blue morpho” can actually be a bit of a misnomer because many of the females are not blue at all!
They Have Multiple Predator Defences
To compensate for their vivid blue colour – which could catch the attention of predators – the underside of the butterfly’s wings are covered in shades of brown, red, black and grey. This resembles the colour and patterning of foliage and helps with camouflage. Their undersides also feature “ocellie” or eyespots which deter predators when the butterflies are at rest and their wings are closed.
When threatened, the butterfly will emit a strong odour from a gland on their front legs that functions as another way to repel predators. The blue morpho also has what is known as a “flashing” defence. When in flight, its wings appear to flash from vivid blue to dull brown. The butterfly seems to continuously disappear and reappear again, making it very hard to track through the thick jungle foliage.
Only the Males Are Blue
These butterflies are covered in shimmering shades of blue on their upper wing surfaces. However, it is typically only the males who exhibit this stunning colouration. The bright coloring is designed to intimidate rival males (blue morpho butterflies are highly territorial) as well as to make themselves extra visible to potential mates. Meanwhile, the females are generally not blue at all and tend to have have wings exhibiting various shades of brown, yellow and black.
Interestingly, however, due to a process known as sexual dimorphism, there are some rare examples of butterflies with both male and female traits which leads them to have one blue wing and one more neutral-coloured wing.
Blue Morpho Butterflies are Not Technically Blue
Turns out the Blue Morpho’s wings are not actually blue at all! Of course, they certainly appear this way, but this is not the result of pigmentation. It is actually caused by the way light reflects off the microscopic scales on its wings. The scales are diamond-shaped and the color results from their specific formation and placement on the wing membranes.
This is a phenomenon known as iridescence, a type of optical illusion which describes how hues change according to the angle from which they are viewed.
Blue Morpho Butterflies Love the Light
These butterflies are diurnal and most active when the sun is shining. Their eyes are highly sensitive to UV light and the males are particularly adept at spotting each other across great distances. Flying through light-filled environments makes them an especially visible presence as the sun rays are reflected off their shiny wings.
In fact, Blue Morpho butterflies are reportedly spotted flying through the jungle canopy by pilots from the air. Luckily for visitors to the Amazon, the butterflies spend most of their time on the forest floor, amongst lower shrubs and trees, flying through clearings or warming themselves next to streams.
Blue Morphos are Unable to Eat
As caterpillars, Blue Morphos start their lives feeding on various plants, particularly those of the pea family. But after transforming they quickly graduate to a more varied and interesting diet, despite the fact they can no longer chew. They drink the juices of rotting or fermenting fruit using their proboscis, a long mouth part which acts like a straw enabling them to suck up the sweet fluids.
They’ve also been known to drink the juices of tree sap, fungi, decomposing animals and even wet mud. What’s more, Blue Morphos have smell receptors on their antenna and taste sensors on their feet.
They’ve Helped Inspire Human Technology
Blue Morphos have long been a source of great fascination to humans. Traditionally, the native peoples of the Amazon associated the butterfly with a long list of superstitious beliefs, and they’ve alternatively been considered both wish granters and evil spirits. More recently, their light-reflecting abilities have been of great interest to scientists.
Studying the phenomenon closely has allowed us to apply the same technique to various forms of technology, including iridescent strips on bills to prevent counterfeiting and energy-efficient color displays for devices.
Blue Morpho Butterflies Face Many Threats
Unfortunately, Blue Morphos face many potential predators and threats in their rainforest home. Whilst not directly endangered, like many Amazon species they are threatened by deforestation and habitat fragmentation. Their beauty also makes them a target for those wanting to capture them for artistic or collection purposes, and even to make jewelry out of their wings.
Conservation of the Blue Morpho butterfly is ongoing in North American butterfly houses, but to see this stunning creature in its natural environment, there’s no better place than the Amazon!
Other Information About Blue Morpho Butterfly
Not True Blue – Blue Morpho Butterfly
Despite their stunning color, blue morphos are not true blue – that is, their wings are not colored blue. So what’s the deal? Like all butterflies, morphos have tiny, overlapping scales covering their wings. In blue morphos, the scales on their wing tops have tiny ridges that reflect blue light. So even though the butterflies aren’t colored blue, their wing tops look blue!
In contrast, the underside of their wings is brown, visible when the butterflies are at rest and their wings are folded up. The drab color helps them blend in with their surroundings and hide from enemies like birds and large insects. If the butterflies are discovered, they have a second line of defense: two bronze-colored wing spots that look like eyes – perfect for scaring off would-be predators.
Changing Tastes of Blue Morpho Butterfly
An adult blue morpho – like all butterflies – drinks its food rather than eats it. It uses its proboscis (long, protruding mouth part) to drink sap and fruit juices.
But like all butterflies, adult morphos were plant-chomping caterpillars as youngsters. Blue morpho caterpillars are especially fond of leaves in the pea family.
Morph-ing of Blue Morpho Butterfly
So how do blue morpho caterpillars turn into blue morpho butterflies? Like all butterflies, they make an amazing transformation known as metamorphosis. First, eggs hatch into larvae, better known as caterpillars. Blue morpho caterpillars aren’t blue at all: they’re reddish-brown with bright patches of lime green on the back.
After a while the caterpillars wrap themselves in protective enclosures, called chrysalises. At this stage the insects are called pupae. After some time, pupation ends and the mature butterflies emerge from their chrysalises.
Home In the Forest of Blue Morpho Butterfly
Morpho adults spend most of their time on the forest floor and in the understory (among the lower shrubs and trees). This is where they do their eating and sleeping. But when they’re mating, these butterflies flit through all layers of the forest.
Fun Facts of Blue Morpho Butterfly
- Blue morphos, like all butterflies, taste with sensors on their legs and taste-smell the air with their antennae.
- Their beauty is brief: the entire blue morpho life cycle lasts only 115 days.