Jamaican sunset butterfly

Extinct in 1894-1895
  • Jamaican sunset butterfly
  • Jamaican sunset butterfly

Newly opened: “Lost Insect Planet”, an Insect House for Jamaican sunset butterflies

Since its opening our LOST ZOO became the home and ark for many extinct animal species. Most of them belong to the more than 270 mammal or birds species which became extinct during the last 500 years. But in reality 784 animal species are known to become extinct since 1500 and many more have gone unnoticed. Most of them are invertebrates. Because they live in special microhabitats and environments, they are much more vulnerable. Their microenvironment can be already destroyed, when the environmental conditions for larger animals are still acceptable. Scientists estimate that in the next 30 years about 20% of all existing species will become extinct only because of the actual climate change. Some of these animals are beautiful butterflies, beetles or land snails.

Skeletal specimen of Aurochs@Copenhagen NH Museum

Jamaican tropical rainforest(Click to view larger image).

If we want to keep in our LOST ZOO not only mammals and birds, but also extinct invertebrates, then we must create their special environmental and habitat requirements. This includes sometimes even the whole food chain for some species which feeds only on a very special plant. Therefore the animals must be kept in air-conditioned greenhouses with the plants of their natural habitat. During the last months we constructed such a building – the “Lost Insect Planet” – which is a Lost Zoo under one roof.

Jamaican sunset butterfly on top and  Green-banded urania Pig-net tree(Omphalea triandra)

Jamaican sunset butterfly on top and Green-banded urania
(Click to view larger image).

Cob-nut tree(Omphalea triandra)
(Click to view larger image).

In a large glass dome we keep the rare endemic Mauritius snout butterfly (Libythea cinyras). Its common name refers to the thick labial palps that look like a "snout". But the main attraction in the free-flying hall is a large swarm of the Jamaican sunset butterfly (Urania sloanus). At the first glance this colorful butterfly reminds of a swallowtail butterfly and was described at first as a swallowtail butterfly too. But in reality it belongs to a butterfly group which has normally a nocturnal life rhythm. In nature, large swarms of the Jamaican sunset butterfly can be observed in April and June, when they visit avocado flowers in the early morning shortly before sunrise and will stay there until 9am. During the whole hot day they rest in large groups and hang on the branches like swarms of bees. After the rain in the afternoon they visit the flowers again.

 
Old painting in 19th of Jamaican suset butterfly

Old painting in the 19th century of a Jamaican suset butterfly
(Click to view larger image).

Different to the mostly dark brown nocturnal moths the Jamaican sunset butterfly is known for his bright, striking colors and is therefore called sunset butterfly. They are apparently toxic and the bright colors are a warning to predators. The wings are deep black with iridescent copper red, blue and golden green markings. The swallowtails of the hind wings are black with some emerald green spots. The underside of the wings is similar to the upper side, but the green transverse bands are lighter. The front wings as well as hind wings are rather long and narrow. The butterfly’s wingspan ranches from 64 to 76 mm.

Madagascan sunset butterfly (two views of same specimen)

Madagascan sunset butterfly (two views of same specimen)
(Click to view larger image).

Skeletal specimen of Aurochs@Copenhagen NH Museum

Jamaican sunset butterfly (two views of female specimen)@Denver Natural History Museum
(Click to view larger image).

The caterpillars of the Jamaican sunset butterfly are black with a broad band consisting of two irregular blueish white lines, joined by numerous cross lines. The ventral surface is black, bounded on each side by a broad yellowish white band, which includes the fulvous legs and the white prolegs. Each segment carries a whorl of long, fusiform hairs which are black for their basal half and white for their terminal. The caterpillars’ length is about 4,5cm and its thickness 65mm. They feed only on the euphorbiaceous cob-nut (Omphalea triandra). Normally the trees are covered with caterpillars feeding greedily on the leaves until the trees have been denuded to the very leafstalks.

Jamaican sunset butterfly enclosure in LOST ZOO

Jamaican sunset butterfly enclosure in LOST ZOO
(Click to view larger image).

When at the end of the 19th century their habitat, the lowland beach forests with all the cob-nut trees was destroyed, the Jamaican sunset butterfly became extinct. To guarantee the breeding of the Jamaican sunset butterfly in our “Lost Butterfly Planet” we planted also the cob-nut trees as the caterpillars’ special food plant in the greenhouse. Today the first caterpillars can be observed there and they guarantee the next generation of the Jamaican sunset butterfly in our Lost Zoo.

Executive Curator
JURGEN LANGE

Jamaican sunset butterfly

The colorful Jamaican sunset butterflies live in the lowland rain forests along the Jamaican coast. The butterflies are active during the early morning hours and in the late afternoon. Then they visit in large swarms the avocado and cob-nut flowers. The leaves of these poisonous trees and bushes (Omphalea triandra) are the only or main food for the long-haired caterpillars of this butterfly species which after a population explosion locally defoliated the trees.

At the end of the 19th century the Jamaican sunset butterfly became extinct because of habitat destruction when the Jamaican lowland rainforests were cut down and converted to agriculture land.

Size: 64-76 mm

Biology: The Jamaican sunset butterfly is a dayflying butterfly, although it belongs to the moths, which are normally active at night. But the striking, bright colors of the Jamaican sunset butterfly advertise their day fly activities and they are to predators also a warning that this butterfly is toxic.

Habitat: Lowland rainforests, especially along the Jamaican coastline. They are always associated with the cob-nut trees and bushes, the main or only food plant of the butterfly’s caterpillars.

Extinction:In 1894-95 the Jamaican sunset butterfly became extinct. When the lowland rainforest trees were cut down and the land was converted to agriculture land, the caterpillars lost their foodplant.

Animal Exhibition
Jamaican sunset butterfly