Heliconius melpomene

Common postman
Ventral view
Dorsal view
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Lepidoptera
Family: Nymphalidae
Genus: Heliconius
Species: H. melpomene
Binomial name
Heliconius melpomene
(Linnaeus, 1758)

Many, see text


Papilio melpomene Linnaeus, 1758

The postman butterfly, common postman, or simply postman[1] (Heliconius melpomene) is one of the heliconiine butterflies found from Mexico to northern South America.[2] Several species in the genus have very similar markings and are difficult to distinguish. This is an example of mimicry.


The postman butterfly has large long wings with an orange stripe down each forewing. It is poisonous and has red patterns on its wings. They tend to look similar to the species Heliconius erato. Two features found on the underside help to distinguish H. erato from H. melpomeneH. erato has four red dots where the wing attaches to the thorax while H. melpomene has three and the yellowish white stripe on the underside reaches the margin of the hindwing in H. erato but ends before reaching the margin in H. melpomene.[1]

Heliconius melpomene rosina

There are many morphs of this butterfly throughout Central and South America.[3] The geographical variation in patterns has been studied using linkage mapping and it has been found that the patterns are associated with a small number of genetic loci called genomic "hotspots".[4][5] Hotspot loci for color patterning have been found homologous between co-mimics H. erato and H. melpomene, strengthening evidence for the parallel evolution between the two species, across morph patterns.[6][7]


A recent study, using amplified fragment length polymorphism (AFLP) and mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) datasets, places the origins of H. melpomene at 2.1 Mya.[8] H. melpomene shows clustering of AFLPs by geography suggesting that the species originated in eastern South America.[8]


The distribution of this butterfly is from Central America to Southern Brazil.


The caterpillar feeds on passion flower species. In Central America, the host plants are Passiflora oerstedii and Passiflora menispermifolia. In other places they breed on several other Passiflora species.[9] Larvae of Heliconius charithonia also eat "Passiflora", in order to indirectly attract males to females via the chemical signals emitted upon feeding.[10]


Subspecies of Heliconius melpomene (Linnaeus, 1758) include:[11]


  1. 1 2 Henderson, C.L. (2009). Butterflies, Moths, and Other Invertebrates in Costa Rica. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, p.47.
  2. Heliconius melpomene, funet.fi
  3. Cuthill, J. H. and M. Charleston. (2012). Phylogenetic codivergence supports coevolution of mimetic Heliconius butterflies. Plos One 7:e36464.
  4. Papa, R., A. Martin, and R. D. Reed. (2008). Genomic hotspots of adaptation in butterfly wing pattern evolution. Curr Opin Genet Dev 18:559-564.
  5. 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
  6. Baxter, S. W., R. Papa, N. Chamberlain, S. J. Humphray, M. Joron, C. Morrison, R. H. ffrench-Constant, W. O. McMillan, and C. D. Jiggins. (2008). Convergent evolution in the genetic basis of Mullerian mimicry in Heliconius butterflies. Genetics 180:1567-1577.
  7. Counterman, B. A., F. Araujo-Perez, H. M. Hines, S. W. Baxter, C. M. Morrison, D. P. Lindstrom, R. Papa, L. Ferguson, M. Joron, R. H. Ffrench-Constant, C. P. Smith, D. M. Nielsen, R. Chen, C. D. Jiggins, R. D. Reed, G. Halder, J. Mallet, and W. O. McMillan (2010). Genomic Hotspots for Adaptation: The Population Genetics of Mullerian Mimicry in Heliconius erato. Plos Genetics 6.
  8. 1 2 Quek, S.P., B.A. Counterman, P.A. de Moura, M.Z. Cardoso, C.R. Marshall, W.O. McMillan, and M.R. Kronforst. (2010). Dissecting comimetic radiations in heliconius reveals divergent histories of convergent butterflies. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 107:7365-7370.
  9. Smiley JT. (1978). Plant chemistry and the evolution of host specificity: new evidence from Heliconius and Passiflora. Science 201:745-7.
  10. Cardoso, Márcio Z. (2008). Ecology, Behavior and Binomics: Herbivore Handling of a Plant's Trichome: The Case of Heliconius Charithonia (L.) (Lepidoptera:Nymphalidae) and Passiflora Lobata (Kilip) Hutch. (Passifloraceae). Neotropical Entomology 37.3:247-52. Web.
  11. Wahlberg N. (last change 26 August 2006). Heliconiini. Nymphalidae.net, accessed 5 February 2010.

Further reading

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