Xanthocles Longwing

Scientific Name
Heliconius xanthocles
BATES, 1862
Specie in

- Learn ButterfliesHeliconius xanthocles simulatus sequestering pollen from ‘hotlips’ Psychotria peruviana in rainforest at Rio Madre de Dios, Peru -Adrian Hoskins


The tribe Heliconiini, colloquially known as Longwings, includes 71 species, all confined exclusively to the neotropics. The Heliconiini includes the genera Heliconius, Podotricha, Dryas, Agraulis, Dione, Dryadula, Eueides, Neruda, Laparus and Philaethria.

All Heliconius species have elongated black wings, marked with simple but striking patterns usually featuring streaks or patches of red and cream, or blue and cream. They are characterised by their delicate fluttering flight, long straight antennae, and fondness for flowers.

The 39 Heliconius species are much studied by geneticists and taxonomists. Many of them produce a staggering variety of colour forms, e.g. Heliconius erato produces 29 different subspecies, each of which corresponds almost exactly in colour and pattern to a ‘sister’ subspecies of melpomene flying in the same area. Heliconius hecale also produces numerous subspecies, but instead of mimicking other Heliconius species, they each mimic a particular species of ‘tiger complex’ Ithomiine.

Heliconius xanthocles forms 16 subspecies found variously in Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. The basic pattern and colour scheme is similar for each subspecies, but they differ in the size and shape of the cream markings on the forewings, and in the extent of the orange/red patterning.

The illustrated subspecies simulatus inhabits the Amazonian lowlands of s.w. Brazil and Peru.


Heliconius xanthocles occurs in lowland rainforest at elevations between sea level and about 600m.


To be completed.

Adult behaviour

Heliconius butterflies are characterised by having a very delicate fluttering flight, particularly when hovering around flowers. They commonly nectar at Hamelia, Lantana and Palicourea.

Unlike other butterflies, Heliconius females feed on pollen as well as nectar. Studies of ethilla have shown that females deprived of pollen can only produce about 15% of the number of eggs laid by females that have access to it. This probably applies equally to other Heliconius species including xanthocles. The pollen from Psiguria, Psychotria, Anguria and Gurania flowers provides amino acids which can’t be obtained from nectar or other sources, and contributes greatly to the longevity of the butterflies – some Heliconius species are known to live for up to 9 months as adults.

Studies have shown that Heliconius butterflies have home ranges within which they can memorise the locations of nectar and pollen sources, host plants and communal roosting sites. They are able to plan the most efficient route by which to visit all nectar / pollen sources in the vicinity by using simple calculations akin to what mathematicians call the “travelling salesman algorithm”. Erlich & Gilbert demonstrated that individual butterflies memorise the location of particular Psiguria plants, which they visit daily, following a predefined circuit through the forest.

In the genus Heliconius most species rely entirely on airborne chemicals to locate mates. Males of hecale, ismenius and cydno are attracted by pheromones to the pupae of conspecific females. The day before emergence a female pupa will usually have several males in close attendance. A frantic battle takes place the instant she hatches, as the males all struggle to copulate with her, not even allowing her time to expand and dry her wings. In some other Heliconius species such as hecalesia, hewitsoni, erato, charithonia and sara the males don’t even wait until the female emerges. Instead they physically break open her pupa and copulate as soon as her genitalia are accessible.

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Butterfly of
Scientific Name
Heliconius xanthocles
BATES, 1862

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