(Transparent) Animal of the Day

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©Eddy Van 3000


Name : Its name is Greta oto, or as the Spanish call it “Espejitos”, which means small mirrors, but it ismore commonly known as the  “Glasswinged Butterfly” by our close English-speaking neighbors. This animal belongs to the Nymphalide family and more particularly to the Ithomiinae subfamily.

Habitat : These butterflies are found in the humid forests of Central America (which includes countries like Costa Rica, Mexico, Panama, Ecuador and Venezuela). During its migratory periods, the Greta oto can travel up to 12 km in a day.

Size : 5.6 to 6.1cm long

Way of life : This magnificent butterfly gathers nectar from flowers such as Asteraceae and Boraginaceae. It absorbs toxic chemical compounds, such as alkaloids, from the flower, and stores them for a long time  within  its tissues. As a result, predators that attack the butterfly find that it has a repulsive taste.

Just like bees, it can transport pollen in small quantities: it is therefore an important animal for the safeguard of biodiversity. However, it is fragile in the face of climate change. This organism is quite special and might go extinct soon.

Drawn by Léa Prévost


The transparency of its wings is what makes the Greta oto special. The reason behind its resemblance to glass is the absence of scales in certain places: in fact the nanostructures constituting the scales absorb light and appear in a certain color. On this butterfly, these nanostructures are present only on the perimeter of the wings, creating a brown border and white spots. This physical ability allows it to escape predators by camouflaging itself.

In addition to that, thanks to the toxins absorbed, it is able to defend itself with its poison which is fatal for a human child and extremely painful for an adult.

Along with feeding on poisonous flowers, this butterfly also spawns there. The larvae and caterpillars are therefore toxic to predators as well. They will keep their toxicity throughout their life.

Note that this animal is also exceptional from a genetic point of view. It is the only living organism that changes its genome between its larval stage and its most mature state. Scientists therefore pay special attention to it.

Finally, these rare organisms are able to create courtship areas in order to seduce females. The males land on leaves, take out their androconial hairs (hairs capable of secreting hormones, such as pheromones) and await the arrival of the females. Other males may also be attracted to these areas, as well as butterflies from other genera and species. For Greta oto, the secreted pheromones are made from the ingested toxins.

Written by Astrid Binon
Translated by Nour El Ghazal

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