Monday, October 24, 2011

Morpho Metamorphosis

While at Cristalino Jungle Lodge these past couple of months one of the things we local naturalist guides made a point of showing the clients were these gorgeous caterpillars.

There was only one group of them right next to a trail, just 100 meters down from the boat dock, but there were others on more distant trails or visible from the river. They roosted near eye-level during the day, and sometime between 11:00 p.m. and 4:00 a.m. would ascend to feed on leaves in the canopy.

Word had been passed down that these were morpho caterpillars, but there are probably 7 species in this genus at Cristalino, and no one I asked knew which species they were. I suspected that they weren't any of the three common very blue ones we see everywhere in the forest, such as this Morpho helenor.

Or this Morpho menelaus – the most blue of all the common ones.

Here I snapped the shot a fraction of a second too late, but you can see the stunning color.

What I noticed was that all of these caterpillar colonies were located on a trunk of a large vine that seemed to grow only in the seasonally flooded forest close to the river. And there was one species of Morpho I knew that flew only near the river, usually near the tree tops, and only in the late morning – but I hadn't seen any during my weeks at the lodge. It was Morpho telemachus and it's not one of the blue ones.

Then in mid-September, the colonies started shrinking, and we started noticing stray caterpillars walking on the forest floor. While with some clients, we saved one from the river, and I took it in, putting it in a ziploc bag with some vegetation. In three days it had formed this chrysalis.

Then on October 7, I saw my first Morpho telemachus – flying near the river at 9:30 a.m. as expected. They were emerging! The very next morning, I checked my chrysalis and it was empty. And bingo – in the bag was a fully formed Morpho telemachus. I took a few photos and let it go. It took just 18 days from caterpillar to butterfly, an astounding metamorphosis.