Heliconius numata is a widespread species across the amazon basin which shows remarkable polymorphism in wing patterns. The divergent morphs each mimic different species, primarily in the genus Melinaea, and have been the subject of intensive genetic and ecological study mainly led my Mathieu Joron and colleagues.
It has been shown that the genetic locus that maintains the polymorphism has arisen from a region in the genome (known as Yb) that controls yellow pattern elements in Heliconius melpomene. In H. numata this locus has taken over control of all of the pattern variation, such that each individual inherits only one of the various possible patterns seen in the species (Joron et al., 2011). There is a nice article in the NY Times describing this work, available here.
Ecological studies suggest that this variation in pattern is maintained by spatial variation in the distribution of the model butterflies. Local populations are dominated by Melinaea species with different wing patterns, so selection for mimicry pulls the H. numata patterns in different directions in different places (Joron et al., 2005).
Range drawn from data compiled by Neil Rosser.
Early stages: Eggs are yellow and approximately 1.4 x 0.9 mm (h x w). Females usually place 1 to 2 eggs on growing shoots and tendrils of the host plant. Mature larvae have a white body and black spots, black scoli, and head and anal cap are orange; length is around 2 cm. Caterpillars are gregarious in small numbers (Brown, 1981).
H. numata occurs from sea level to 1,800 m in tall forests. Usually individuals fly rapidly in the middlestory. Females mate multiply and adults roost solitarily or in small groups at night at 2-10 m above ground on twigs or tendrils.
Hostplant: H. numata larvae feed primarily on plants from the subgenera Granadilla, Astrophea and Distephana (Passifloraceae) and from the genera Dilkea and Tetrastylis (Brown, 1981).