Morpho Butterfly
Morpho didius – Museum specimen
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Lepidoptera
Family: Nymphalidae
Subfamily: Morphinae
Tribe: Morphini
Genus: Morpho
Fabricius, 1807
Type species
Papilio achilles
Linnaeus, 1758

see text

c.80 species

A Morpho butterfly may be one of over 80 species of butterflies in the genus Morpho. They are Neotropical butterflies found mostly in South America as well as Mexico and Central America.[1] Morphos range in wingspan from the 7.5 cm (3 inch) M. rhodopteron to the imposing 20 cm (8 inch) Sunset Morpho, M. hecuba. The name Morpho, meaning changed or modified, is also an epithet of Aphrodite and Venus.


Selected species

Arranged alphabetically.


Many Morpho butterflies are colored in metallic, shimmering shades of blue and green. These colors are not a result of pigmentation but are an example of iridescence: the microscopic scales covering the Morpho's wings reflect incident light repeatedly at successive layers, leading to interference effects that depend on both wavelength and angle of incidence/observance.[2] Thus the colors produced vary with viewing angle, however they are actually surprisingly uniform, perhaps due to the tetrahedral (diamond-like) structural arrangement of the scales or diffraction from overlying cell layers. This structure may be likened to a photonic crystal. The lamellate structure of their wing scales has been studied as a model in the development of fabrics, dye-free paints, and anti-counterfeit technology used in currency.

The iridescent lamellae are only present on the dorsal side of their wings, leaving the ventral side brown.

The ventral side is decorated with ocelli or eyespots. In some species, such as M. godarti, the dorsal lamellae are so thin as to allow the ventral ocelli to peek through. While not all Morphos have iridescent coloration, they all have ocelli. In most species only the males are colorful, supporting the theory that the coloration is used for intrasexual communication between males. The lamellae reflect up to 70% of light falling on them, including any ultraviolet (UV). The eyes of Morpho butterflies are thought to be highly sensitive to UV light and therefore the males are able to see each other from great distances. Some South American species are reportedly visible by the human eye up to one kilometre away.

There also exist a number of white Morpho species, principal among these being M. catenarius and M. laertes. An unusual species that is fundamentally white in coloration, but which exhibits a stunning pearlescent purple and teal iridescence when viewed at certain angles is the rare M. sulkowskyi, while among the metallic blue Morpho species, M. rhetenor stands out as the most iridescence of all, with M. cypris a close second. Indeed, M. cypris is notable in that specimens that are mounted in entomological collections will exhibit color differences across the wings if they are not 'set' perfectly flat.

There is a nanotechnology concept based on the Morphos wings, that is being used to fight counterfeiters.


Morpho butterflies are forest dwellers but will venture into sunny clearings to warm themselves. They typically live alone, excluding mating season. Males are territorial and will chase any rivals. The people along the Rio Negro in Brazil once exploited the territorial habits of the Blue Morpho (M. menelaus) by luring them into clearings with bright blue decoys. The collected butterfly wings were used as embellishment for ceremonial masks.

Morpho butterflies feed on the juices of fermenting fruit with which they may also be lured. The butterflies wobble in flight and are easy to catch.

Life cycle

The entire life cycle of the Morpho butterfly, from egg to death, is approximately 115 days.


The larvae hatch from pale green, dewdrop-like eggs. The caterpillars have reddish-brown bodies with bright lime-green or yellow patches on its back. Its hairs are irritating to human skin, and when disturbed it secretes a fluid that smells like rancid butter. They feed on a variety of leguminous plants.[3]

The caterpillar will molt five times before entering the pupal stage. The chrysalis is jade-green and emits a repulsive, ultrasonic sound when touched.[4]

The adults live for about two to three weeks. They feed on the fluids of fermenting fruit, decomposing animals, tree sap and fungi.[5] They are poisonous to predators thanks to toxins they sequestered from plants they fed on as caterpillars.

The commoner Blue Morphos are reared en masse in commercial breeding programs. The iridescent wings are used in the manufacture of jewelry and as inlay in woodworking. Papered specimens are sold with the abdomen removed to prevent its oily contents from staining the wings. Significant quantities of live specimens are exported as pupae from several neotropical countries for exhibition in butterfly houses. Unfortunately, due to their irregular flight pattern and size, their wings are frequently damaged when in captivity.


Images of various varieties of morpho butterflies.


  1. ^ Le Moult (E.) & Réal (P.), 1962–1963. Les Morpho d'Amérique du Sud et Centrale, Editions du cabinet entomologique E. Le Moult, Paris.
  2. ^ P. Vukusic, J.R. Sambles, C.R. Lawrence, and R.J. Wootton (1999). "Quantified interference and diffraction in single Morpho butterfly scales". Proc. Roy. Soc. Lond. B 266 (1427): 1403–11. doi:10.1098/rspb.1999.0794. 
  3. ^ Morpho Butterfly at Animal Corner. (2004-01-01). Retrieved on 2011-10-17.
  4. ^ Greg Nussbaum Blue Morpho
  5. ^ Blue Morpho Butterfly (Morpho peleides). Rainforest Alliance. Retrieved on 2011-10-17.

Further reading

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Morpho — Morpho …   Wikipédia en Français

  • morpho — mor pho, n. [NL., fr. Gr. ?, an epithet of Venus.] (Zo[ o]l.) Any one of numerous species of large, handsome, tropical American butterflies, of the genus {Morpho}. They are noted for the very brilliant metallic luster and bright colors (often… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • morpho — ● morpho nom masculin Superbe papillon (nymphalidé) d Amérique tropicale, généralement d un bleu métallique éclatant. morpho n. m. Grand papillon d Amérique du S., aux ailes d un bleu lumineux irisé …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • Morpho — Morpho, Schmetterling, so v.w. Riesenfalter …   Pierer's Universal-Lexikon

  • Morpho — Fab., Gattung der Schmetterlinge aus der Familie der Tagfalter, riesige Arten von zum Teil mehr als 18 cm Flügelspannung mit sehr kleinen, pinselförmigen Vorderbeinen, kurzen, dünnen Fühlern mit zarter Keule, großen nackten Augen und am… …   Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon

  • Morpho — MORPHO, us, Gr. Μορφὼ, οῦς, ein Beynamen der Venus, welcher von der Gestalt hergenommen worden, der die Venus vorzustehen pflegt. Potter. in Lycophr. v. 449. Tyndarus hatte ihr zu Lacedämon einen Tempel über der bewaffneten Venus ihrem erbauet,… …   Gründliches mythologisches Lexikon

  • morpho... — morpho...   [griechisch morphe̅ »Gestalt«], vor Vokalen meist verkürzt zu morph..., Wortbildungselement mit der Bedeutung: Gestalt, Form, z. B. Morphologie, Morphem. In gleicher Bedeutung auch als letzter Wortbestandteil: 1) bei Adjektiven… …   Universal-Lexikon

  • MORPHO — apud Lacedaemonios Venus dicta, ἀπὸ τῆς μορφῆς, i. c. a formâ. Huius simulacro Tyndarus pedicas imposuit, non quod Venerem vinxerit, ut Deae in filias opprobria ulcisceretur, quod nonnulli putârunt: sed ut per illas denotaret, mulieres domi… …   Hofmann J. Lexicon universale

  • morpho- — before vowels morph , word forming element meaning form, shape, from comb. form of Gk. morphe form, shape; beauty, outward appearance (see MORPHEUS (Cf. Morpheus)) …   Etymology dictionary

  • morpho- — [môr′fō, môr′fə] [ MORPH(EME) + o ] combining form morpheme [morphophonemics] …   English World dictionary

  • Morpho — Pour les articles homonymes, voir Morpho (homonymie). Morpho …   Wikipédia en Français

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