Moths of the Amazon and Andes
Butterfly moth
Macrosoma heliconaria  WALKER, 1862
Superfamily - HEDYLOIDEA
subfamily - HEDYLINAE
Tribe -

Macrosoma heliconaria, Satipo, Peru  Adrian Hoskins

All butterflies and moths belong to the order Lepidoptera. This is split into 34 superfamilies, each with particular characteristics. 95% of the species in these superfamilies are nocturnal insects, and are commonly called moths.
Positioned ( in evolutionary and systematic terms ) somewhere in the middle of all these moths are two particular superfamilies - the Hesperioidea and Papilionoidea. The Hesperioidea comprises of a single family Hesperiidae. Its members are called Skippers, and are generally thought of as being butterflies. The Papilionoidea comprises of 6 families. Five of these - the Papilionidae, Lycaenidae, Riodinidae, Pieridae and Nymphalidae have always been regarded as butterflies.
In 2011 scientists decided as a result of molecular analysis that the moth family Hedylidae had more in common with the traditional butterfly families than with other moths. Consequently the Hedylidae were transferred to the Papilionoidea, and are now regarded as butterflies! In terms of systematics the Papilionoidea are positioned between the moth superfamilies Geometroidea and Drepanoidea. 
The 35 species of the family Hedylidae are nocturnal and moth-like in appearance. The early stages however have many butterfly-like characteristics. The eggs for example are structurally closer to those of Pieridae and Nymphalidae than to moth eggs. The caterpillars have horn-like processes like Apaturinae, a bifid tail as found in Satyrinae, and secondary setae as found in Pieridae. They also have an "anal comb" used for expelling droppings - a characteristic of the Hesperiinae. The pupae likewise have structural characteristics more representative of butterfly pupae, and are secured to the substrate with a silken girdle, just like those of the Pieridae and Papilionidae.
Microscopic examination of the legs, wing veins, internal organs and genitalia of adult Hedylidae offers yet more evidence of their affinity to butterflies, although they also have many characteristics more typical of moths - unclubbed antennae, a frenulum to link the fore and hindwings during flight, and nocturnal habits.
Most nocturnal moths, regardless of family, have "ears" which they use to detect approaching bats. If they sense a bat approaching they take immediate evasive action, twisting and diving to escape being eaten. In most moth families the hearing organs are located at the base of the abdomen, but Hedylidae and a small number of butterflies ( e.g. Hamadryas ) have these organs on the underside of their wings.
All Hedylidae are placed in the same genus - Macrosoma. There are 35 species distributed variously from Mexico to Bolivia. The greatest concentration is in southern Peru where at least 26 species occur.
The various Macrosoma species occupy a wide range of forest habitats, at altitudes between sea level and at least 2000m.
The larvae are similar in appearance to those of Satyrine butterflies. The various species utilise a wide range of foodplants in the families Malvaceae, Melastomataceae, Euphorbiaceae, Rutaceae and Malpighiaceae. They usually rest stretched out along the midrib of leaves, which they skeletonise, often completely defoliating saplings.
Adult behaviour

Most Hedylidae are nocturnal, and are commonly attracted to tungsten and fluorescent lighting, but there are at least 2 day-flying species found in Mexico.

Macrosoma species characteristically rest in the posture shown in the image at the top of the page, with the hindwings held away from the abdomen and half hidden behind the outspread forewings. They usually lean back so that the forewings are held well clear of the substrate but the hindwings touch it.


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