Butterflies of the Amazon rainforest
Variable Leafwing
Zaretis itys  CRAMER, 1777
subfamily - CHARAXINAE
 introduction | habitats | lifecycle | adult behaviour

Zaretis itys, male, Rio Madre de Dios, Peru
There are 88 species in the tribe Anaeini, all of which are confined to the neotropical region. All have cryptic "dead-leaf" patterns on the underside and a leaf-like profile, with a falcate apex on the forewing and a short tail on the hindwing.
The genera Coenophlebia and Zaretis are among the most convincing dead leaf mimics in the insect world, coloured like dead dry leaves, complete with a fake "midrib" and "leaf-mould" mottling. Some species such as Coenophlebia archidona, and the dry season forms of Zaretis itys take things even further, having translucent blotches that bear a remarkable resemblance to the nibbled tissue of leaves that have been attacked by leaf beetles or young caterpillars !
Zaretis itys is almost as variable in colour and pattern as the leaves which it simulates. The ground colour varies from earthy brown to pale umber or dull orange. The dark mottling can be very heavy in some examples or almost absent in others. The hyaline ( translucent ) areas can take the form of large blotches, or may be reduced to just one or two small spots. In a few examples such as the specimen illustrated above they can be absent.
The genus Zaretis comprises of 6 species which are variously distributed from Mexico to Bolivia, namely itys, ellops, callidryas, isidora, syene and an as yet unnamed species discovered by Willmott & Hall. The commonest and most widespread species is itys, which is distributed from Mexico to southern Peru.
This species is found in rainforest and humid deciduous forest habitats at altitudes between sea level and about 600m.
The fully grown caterpillar is dark brown, with a series of dark markings along the back. There is a prominent raised flap-like hump behind the thorax, and the head bears a pair of stout horns. The foodplant is Casearia ( Flacourtiaceae ).
Adult behaviour


Both sexes feed at rotting fruits in the canopy, but males can sometimes be encountered at midday, imbibing moisture from damp sunlit sandbanks or along wide forest trails. If disturbed, or if clouds temporarily obscure the sun, they fly up into trees and settle under leaves or small branches.



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