Ecuador Butterfly Trip

For two weeks in early November, a small group of us focused almost exclusively on seeing the incredible variety of butterflies in the area around Tena, Ecuador.  Ever since then, with a brief break for Thanksgiving, I’ve been wading through the more than 2500 pictures that made it home with me, deleting the really bad ones and duplicates, deciding which to keep, and cleaning up the rest.  Down to under 500 now, there’s still work to be done trying to figure out just what species they are from the several hundred we saw during the trip of the thousands that are found there, and eventually I’ll post more on the travel page of my website.  Since it’s been almost a month since my last posting, I thought I’d share some of the better pictures below, although I have to beg forgiveness in not yet having the proper identification for many of them.

Our trip was organized by Sunstreak Tours and led by the extraordinary Andrew Neild, and our group of ten included the quite knowledgeable owner of Sunstreak Tours (and overall butterfly expert), Jeff Glassberg.  Based out of the comfortable Hostal Casa del Abuelo, each day we’d head off in search of butterflies and return that evening having seen something exceptional every day.  Even on the way to Tena from Quito, we picked up a number of species that were new to most of us, including this Dartwhite member of the genus Catastica.


Catasticta susiana

A favorite for some of us were the “eighty-eights”, small butterflies that usually perch with their wings closed showing a pattern on their outer wings of an “88” or “89” or similar.


Eighty-eight (Callicore hystaspes)

Here’s the same individual with its wings open.


Eighty-eight (Callicore hystaspes)

Like many butterflies (and there are a couple of examples below), the underside of the wings can be dull or patterned to blend in with the natural setting as a form of camouflage, with astonishing colors and patterns on the upper wing. Some of the best examples of this are found among the Leafwings, whose eyes are just as cryptic as the rest of its body.



It could get pretty dark in the rain forest, which made photography a bit tricky at times, but there were some amazing butterflies flitting about from high in the canopy down to the ground level.  One of the cooler ones to see and obviously nearly impossible to photograph well were several species of clear-winged Satyrs.

Phantom Satyr

Phantom Satyr (Haetera piera)

Another fabulous denizen of the forest is the Painted Panacea, a medium-sized butterfly with a complete palette of pastel colors.

Painted Panacea

Painted Panacea (Batesia hypochlora)

Similar to the eighty-eights were a couple of species of Perisamas, with their buttery outer wings hiding spectacular colors (black and turquoise in this case) on the inner surface.


Citron Perisama (Perisama oppelii)

We were quite lucky on several occasions to get close looks at the large Morpho butterfly, which is usually seen only as an elusive electric blue flash floating by, but is also quite attractive in the closed position.

Common Morpho

Common Morpho (Morpho helenor)

Another big one that is commonly seen in butterfly houses here is the Malachite.


Malachite (Siproeta stelenes)

Similar to the Julia (Dryas julia) which we also saw on the trip and that is sometimes seen in the southern US, another large colorful specimen is the Juno Heliconian (Dione juno).

Juno Heliconian

Juno Heliconian (Dione juno)

Several days, we’d prospect along rocky river banks and find many species basking in the sun and sipping the salty ground.  Here are 3 examples of some of the larger ones that were on the beach one day.

Orion Cecropian

Orion Cecropian (Historius odius)

Sunset Daggerwing

Sunset Daggerwing (Marpesia furcula)

Waiter Daggerwing

Waiter Daggerwing (Marpesia zerynthia)

Back in the woods for some more spectacular “bugs” – at one time, I thought this one might be the highlight of the trip


Erichson’s Greenmark (Caria trochilus)

until we saw a couple of different Caria species and several individuals of the same species.  Then I got thinking maybe this next one was the BOT (Butterfly of the Trip), shown here perched on Jeff Glassberg’s lens – I guess you just can’t get close enough for a good picture!


Jewelmark (Anteros acheus)

Then again, maybe this guy’s the BOT.


Black-arch Agrias (Agrias claudina)

Looking somewhat like a very large “88”, this may be my favorite picture of the trip, catching a shot of  this amazing butterfly’s proboscis dimpling the water.

There were plenty of other butterflies, however, vying for the honor.  For example, there was the Stoplight Catone


Stoplight Catone (Catonephele numilia)

and this incredible skipper,


Skipper (Tarsoctenus corytus)

or maybe this guy, who was flashy enough posed with its wings closed,


Obrinus Olivewing (Nessaea obrinus)

but blew it away when they opened.

Olivewing Open

Obrinus Olivewing (Nessaea obrinus)

Close to where that show was going on was a much smaller Eyemark strutting its stuff.


Sky-blue Eyemark, (Mesosemia loruhama)

While we were mostly concerned with seeing and identifying butterflies on the trip, there were also some incredible moths seeking our attention.  Two examples:

Caneborer Moth

Cane-borer Moth (Telchin cf. licus)

and this one.



Of course, we couldn’t help but notice some of the other living things seen on our outings.  Lots of interesting spiders about…



way cool grasshoppers,



colorful dragonflies,



some astonishing bugs of all sizes and colors,



and walking sticks.

Walking Stick

Walking Stick

So focused on looking for butterflies, unlike my previous birding trips to Ecuador, most of us failed to notice the variety of birds that were about, and I had to laugh at the lack of interest from everybody one day when I pointed out an aracari perched nearby while we were driving along the way.  One couple in our group, though, did keep an eye out and managed to list more than 100 species while the rest of us were doing our butterfly thing.   We also coincidentally ran into a couple of our Albuquerque friends who were in the area on what surely was a wonderful birding trip, and I’m looking forward to hearing stories of their experience. Of the few bird pictures I managed to take, I was pretty happy with this one of a most patient Cinnamon Flycatcher during a visit to Cabanas San Isidro.

Cinnamon Flycatcher

Cinnamon Flycatcher

Finally, it was fun to stop in Misahualli again, a town I last visited with a friend in 2008 after being told Tena was just too big of a town.  Sure enough, the monkeys were still running about on the plaza entertaining the gringos.


Misahualli Monkey

So that’s a quick overview of what’s been going on the last couple of weeks.  Now back to work figuring out the names of all those butterflies.


About joeschelling

Birding, butterflies, nature photography, and travel blog from right here in Albuquerque New Mexico.
This entry was posted in Birding, Bugs, Butterfly, Dragonflies, Photographs, Travel. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Ecuador Butterfly Trip

  1. Rebecca Gracey says:

    Joe, A wonderful write-up of an amazing trip. Your pictures capture the beauty of the butterflies so well.

  2. Mike Powell says:

    I was suffering from sensory overload by the time I reached the end of the blog. There are so many bright colors and beautiful patterns. These are wonderful photos of some amazing insects.

  3. R. Schelling says:

    Joe, Your butterflies are fantastic, especially “88”, Phantom Satyr, Malachite which reminds me of a nice piece of malachite that dad and I had. The Erichson’s greenmark, Black-arch Agrias, the skipper–There are just so many–SPECTACULAR!

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