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Butterfly Wing Scale Digital Image Gallery

False Acraea Swallowtail Butterfly

The brilliant orange, red and black patterns of the false acraea butterfly mimic those of other species in order to provide protection from predators, yet, cannot protect them from man. The species ranges from the Republic of Cameroon and Gabon, east across Central Africa through the Congo, and into Western Uganda. However, the habitat of the false acraea has greatly suffered from many years of war and the local butterfly populations may be shrinking.

False acraea butterflies are scientifically described as Pseudacraea clarki and are members of the family Nymphalidae. The adults have a highly modified front pair of legs, which are no longer utilized for walking. Rather, the brush-like legs act as sensory organs used to taste plants as potential egg hosts and larval food sources. Sexual dimorphism is highly pronounced in the false acraea species. The males display burnt oranges and reds, but the larger females are more golden and are highlighted by numerous black spots.

Entymologists are not certain whether the mimicry displayed by the false acraea butterfly is Batesian or Müllerian. Batesian mimicry, in which one species is harmful and the other is harmless, is named for Henry Walter Bates, an English biologist who studied tropical butterflies in the 1850's. Müllerian mimicry, named for Fritz Müller, a German zoologist who worked in the Amazon about thirty years after Bates, refers to several unpalatable species that share a similar warning pattern.

The feeding habits of false acraea caterpillars have often caused them to be regarded as agricultural pests. The larvae feed on several different host plants, such as star apples, red-milkwoods, satin leaf, golden leaf, balata, and bully trees. The fruit of the balata and star apple trees are sold commercially in Africa. Since the caterpillars are herbivores of the economically important fruit trees, they are often treated with toxic insecticides. Additional problems for the species include over-collecting, destruction of habitat due to agricultural conversion of forests, and the aftermath of many years of war.

Contributing Authors

Cynthia D. Kelly, Shannon H. Neaves, Laurence D. Zuckerman, and Michael W. Davidson - National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, 1800 East Paul Dirac Dr., The Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida, 32310.


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