In the course of trying to decide whether Henry Walter Bates was confused by mimicry in Heliconius melpomene vs. erato (and he clearly was, at least by the pictures referring to the new names in Cramer’s Pap. Exot.), I have found a puzzle in the types of melpomene herself. Linnaeus described Papilio melpomene.
At least one of the designated types, the male, is clearly an erato (enlarged image, bottom, cited as paralectotype in Butterflies of America (refers to http://linnean-online.org/14407/)), and even the top one (enlarged image), a female (cited as lectotype in BoA (http://linnean-online.org/14406/)) is somewhat dubious. After mature consideration. and a few beers, I believe that the lectotype is indeed a melpomene , but it’s a small specimen that is a bloody good mimic of erato, including reducing some of the whitish scales on the underside so that the red shows through (a VERY erato trait — and females are always best at everything, including mimicry, don’t you find?). But the paralectotype is clearly an erato.
These specimens are now around 240 years old, and were purchased from Linnaeus’ widow in 1783 by Sir James Edward Smith, who founded, and served as first President of, the Linnean Society of London.
Today, we know (more or less) what we mean by Heliconius melpomene (except that we’ve discovered cryptic taxa belonging to H. timareta within it, and except that we’ve discovered that Guiana and Panama melpomene are partially intersterile, but, really, we know this species almost as well as anyone knows any species on the planet). So I suggest that whatever the putative type is (and it has to be putative, because it is not entirely clear which specimen is what in Linnaus’ writing), we should move as a group to support the current usage.
Heliconius erato has had its own spotty history. The Linnean type is clearly a doris! See: http://www.butterfliesofamerica.com/L/heliconius_e_erato_historical.htm
But the H. erato we know has received ICZN name conservation approval after a petition by John R.G. Turner.
Comments welcome! I suggest you vote for top and bottom specimens (of the image above) being erato or melpomene; I’d be interested in what you all think.
You are right, the specimen on the bottom is clearly an erato. For the specimen of the top, the edge of the red band is more blurred, which makes me think of a melpomene.
The one on the top is Heliconius melpomene and the one on the bottom is Heliconius erato.
Yes I agree melpomene top and erato bottom. But even the melpomene is quite ‘erato-like’.
The top one is Heliconius melpomene melpomene, the bottom one might be Heliconius erato hydara?