The Virtual Rainforest
A Neotropical Rainforest
Rainforest Research


Tree Seedlings

Forest Flowers



Army Ants

Bullet Ants
Leafcutter Ants

Rhinoceros Beetle

Swallowtail Butterfly



Keel-billed Toucan

Howler Monkeys

White-faced Monkeys

Three-toed Sloth
Baird's Tapir
White-lipped Peccary
Reptiles and Amphibians:
Red-eyed Tree Frog
Poison Dart Frog
Helmeted Iguana
Eyelash Viper
Terciopelo Viper
Spectacled Caiman
American Crocodile
Human Systems:
Rainforest Boy
Rainforest Girl
Traditional Ecological Knowledge
Rainforest Research

About the Authors





White Swallowtail Butterfly

There are many different kinds of swallowtail butterflies, found in both the tropics and temperate zones. These butterflies like to feed off of citrus plants when they are in larvae form. Something special about them is that they have forked wings at the tail portion. When they are caterpillars these forks secrete smelly stuff called terpenes. An acid they carry also protects them from predators.

White Swallowtail with Clear Wing Spots - photo from Panama

Heliconius Butterflies

These butterflies come in many different colors and can be found in many places around the tropics and subtropics. Their bright colors are usually warnings to predators that they are not something tasty to eat. Some butterflies will copy this butterfly’s color so they are also protected from predators. They use passion flowers as their larval food source. Heliconius erato, or the Red Postman is named so because of a red stripe across its wings.

Heliconius Zebra Wing
It can be hard to tell apart from other Heliconius butterflies because there are so many copy cats. The female lays one egg a day on the tip of passion flower leaves. They also are able to eat pollen and usually live in gardens, plantations and forest edges. Heliconius charitonia is yellow and black in color and is commonly known as the Zebra Longwing, pictured above. This particular butterfly is found in young or disturbed forest. The females lay their eggs on passion flower vines. Heliconius hecale is the most common Heliconius butterfly. It is orange and black and usually has yellow spots. These butterflies live almost anywhere and they will protect their food plants from other butterflies. Butterflies are probably a good indicator of the health of the rainforest plant ecosystem.
White Swallowtail Butterfly feeding on Vochysia flowers

Owl Butterfly (Caligo sp.)

Owl butterflies are HUGE - they have a wingspan of about eight inches (20 cm)!

Like several other rainforest animals, the Owl Butterfly has a special feature that allows it to escape predators. For this butterfly, the defense is a giant eye spot on each of its hind wings. When the butterfly spreads its wings, the two eyes look like an Owl's face. Little birds that eat butterflies get eaten by owls, so they fly away from the scary butterfly.

These butterflies eat banana leaves when they're young. The caterpillar is very, very ugly, but look at the beautiful butterfly it becomes!

Another beautiful butterfly of the rainforest is called a Morpho, and it has neon-blue upper wings. When it closes its wings, the undersides look like an Owl Butterfly's, but when it opens them you can see the bright blue tops.



The Virtual Rainforest

Back to the Rainforest

Copyright Gerald R. Urquhart
Michigan State University

Students and teachers have permission to quote text and use images from this website in class assignments. Images may be used in classroom and academic presentations with notification of author. All other use should request permission.


Virtual Rainforest development supported by grant #0815966 from the
National Science Foundation

Center for Global Change and Earth Observation

Michigan State University