An Excerpt from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter of January, 12 2009
written in the northern Yucatán, México

Massilia Sister, ADELPHA PARAENA MASSILIA

SISTER BUTTERFLIES

Bea up in Ontario continues to help me by identifying butterfly pictures taken at my various stops. The other day she sent me the name of a very common butterfly around Sabacché, my location south of Mérida here in the Yucatán last August. That's it above.

Bea says that that's a Massilia Sister, ADELPHA PARAENA MASSILIA.

I'm particularly glad to have that identification because I've seen butterflies very like this in many places -- brown butterflies with bold white bars forming Vs across their backs, and with orange patches near their wingtips. As the butterflies perch they tend to open and close their wings, maybe causing a predator to think in terms of a dangerous mouth opening and closing.

I first remember seeing a look-alike species back in California's Sierra Madres when I visited my friend Fred in 2005. That one I identified as the California Sister, Adelpha bredowii. Notice that it belonged to the same genus, Adelpha. Dozens of California Sisters were seen during a June hike up Slate Mountain. The field guide said the species' caterpillars ate leaves of the area's Canyon Live Oaks. Too bad I didn't have a camera then, for in my memory California Sisters looked exactly like the above-pictured Massilia Sister.

Last year I did have a camera when one day yet another very similar butterfly landed on a wet washrag outside my cabin ruin in the cold oak-pine-sweetgum forest in upland Chiapas at Yerba Buena, as you can see at http://www.backyardnature.net/chiapas/butt-024.jpg.

My friends at the Mariposas Mexicanas Website identified that as the Donysa Sister, ADELPHA DONYSA DONYSA (genus Adelpha again), and I recall it as among the most common butterflies at that location. Its main difference from our Massilia Sister seems to be in the shape of the orange blotch. Otherwise the similarities are striking.

In fact, 33 "Sister Butterflies" -- species of the genus Adelpha -- are listed at the Mariposas Mexicanas Website for Mexico, and some of those species are represented by more than one subspecies. No wonder I find brown, white-barred, orange-splotched butterflies at so many stops. The genus Adelpha seems to have discovered a winning survival strategy, and has been rewarded with an enormous distribution that currently is radiating into many niches, subspeciating as it goes.

If only a handful of butterfly species survive the current mass extinction taking place because of human activity, it might be a good bet that an Adelpha species will be among them.