Heliconius melpomeneChris Jiggins, Margarita Beltran, and Andrew V. Z. Brower
Heliconius melpomene is a widespread neotropical species well known for its geographic diversity in colour pattern. Throughout its range, H. melpomene is co-mimetic with Heliconius erato, and both species have around 30 named geographic sub-species. H. melpomene is generally less abundant than H. erato, but both are found in open areas. H. melpomene can however be locally common in river edges and along streams.
H. melpomene is an ecological host plant specialist in Central America, where it only feeds on either Passiflora oerstedii or Passiflora menispermifolia. In other parts of the range however it is more of a generalist and can be found feeding on several different Passiflora species. Even in Central America, the larvae will happily develop on most species of Passiflora, so the specialisation is due to the oviposition preferences of the females (Smiley, 1978).
The genetic basis of the geographic variation in colour pattern has been extensively worked out over many years of crossing experiments (Sheppard et al., 1985). Just a few genes of major effect control most of the changes. These loci have recently been shown to be shared across several different Heliconius species (Joron et al., 2006).
Geographic distribution of some of the major colour pattern forms of Heliconius melpomene. © Chris Jiggins.
Names of various geographical races/subspecies, clockwise from 1 pm: H. melpomene melpomene (L.), H. melpomene nanna Stichel (the illustrated wings are of the Central American H. melpomene rosina), H. melpomene xenoclea Hewitson, H. melpomene amaryllis C. Felder & R. Felder, H. mepomene plesseni Riffarth, H. melpomene cythera Hewitson, H. melpomene rosina Boisduval. Center: H. melpomene aglaope C. Felder & R. Felder (and many other names).
Brower AVZ. 1996. Parallel race formation and the evolution of mimicry in Heliconius butterflies: a phylogenetic hypothesis from mitochondrial DNA sequences. Evolution 50: 195-221.
Joron, M, Papa, R, Beltr?n, M, Chamberlain, N, Mav?rez, J, Baxter, S, Bermingham, E, Humphray, S, Rogers, J, Beasley, H, Barlow, K, ffrench-Constant, R, Mallet, J, McMillan, WO, Jiggins, CD A Conserved supergene locus controls colour pattern diversity in Heliconius butterflies Plos Biology. Vol. 4, No. 10, e303.
Sheppard PM, Turner JRG, Brown KS, Benson WW, Singer MC. 1985. Genetics and the evolution of muellerian mimicry in Heliconius butterflies. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London (B) 308: 433-613
Smiley JT. 1978. Plant chemistry and the evolution of host specificity: new evidence from Heliconius and Passiflora. Science 201: 745-7
Correspondence regarding this page should be directed to Chris Jiggins at , Margarita Beltran at , and Andrew V. Z. Brower at
Page copyright © 2006 Chris Jiggins, , and
- First online 18 February 2007
- Content changed 25 March 2007
Citing this page:
Jiggins, Chris, Beltran, Margarita, and Brower, Andrew V. Z. 2007. Heliconius melpomene http://tolweb.org/Heliconius_melpomene/72252/2007.03.25 in The Tree of Life Web Project, http://tolweb.org/. Version 25 March 2007 (under construction).