Types of butterflies in S. American rainforest

Mark Walker MWalker at gensym.com
Fri Feb 26 12:59:51 EST 1999


Wow, that's some assignment.  I'm sure you'll be getting lots of replies,
and the numbers you'll be getting will be staggering (at least when compared
with the relatively few numbers of butterfly species there really are on the

The correct answer, however, is that it's not really known how many.  Much
of the lepidoptera fauna is inaccessible in the rainforest, and so to start
there are still potentially undiscovered species.  Clearly we're getting a
better handle on some of this (since much of the rainforest is disappearing,
and the rest is becoming better studied and more accessible), but because
the rainforest canopy is very high, little is actually known about what
happens up at the top.  Many butterfly species only appear in the adult
stage in very localized areas for a very short period, and so researchers
would have to be studying almost continuously - over a vast region.  

The numbers of potentially undiscovered species is probably fairly small,
and so a rough estimate is probably not going to be that far off.  But then
there is an ongoing debate as to the proper classification of species.  If
you consulted textbooks, for example, you'd find some inconsistency in your

The total number of known Lepidoptera species is on the order of 20,000.
Probably 80% of these live in tropical habitats, of which the South and
Latin American rainforest represents a substantial percentage (maybe 20%?).
This very crude estimate produces a number like 3200 species, which may be
low.  I'd be interested in knowing what numbers are reported back to you.

Anyway, have fun with this.  There are a couple of excellent books with
wonderful photographs of these butterflies.  A good starter book, which
isn't too expensive, is Bernard D'Abrera's Butterflies of South America (I
think it's less than $20 from BioQuip in Gardena, CA).

Hope this helps,

Mark Walker
Mission Viejo, CA

> -----Original Message-----
> From:	whafener at aol.com [SMTP:whafener at aol.com]
> Sent:	Thursday, February 25, 1999 6:18 PM
> To:	leps-l at lists.yale.edu
> Subject:	Types of butterflies in S. American rainforest
> Howdy,
> 	My daughter came home from school with an assignment to find out how
> many
> different types of butterflies there are in the South American
> rainforests.
> Could someone please help us out? Any e-mail would be greatly appreciated.
> Thanks you all in advance. Bill.

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