Monday, July 16, 2018
University of Hawaii at Manoa
University of Hawaii System
College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources
 
Orange and black color patterns are a common theme in the butterfly family Nymphalidae. In Hawaiʻi, we have five non-native species of butterfly that may be confused with the Kamehameha butterfly, and some of these may be found in the same habitats. It's therefore important to know if what you are looking at is indeed the Kamehameha butterfly. Below is a guide to help distinguish between the Kamehameha butterfly and the introduced "wannabes". When submitting photos, try to capture traits that will enable us to distinguish between the different species. Fortunately, the caterpillars of the non-native butterflies are quite different from the Kamehameha butterfly caterpillar, and most of them feed on different plants.

 The Kamehameha butterfly (Vanessa tameamea)
The Kamehameha butterfly (V. tameamea) can be distinguished from the other species of Vanessa by the number of white (female) or light orange (male) patches in the black area on the upper surface of the forewings. V. tameamea has only three main white patches in this area (though some are divided by dark wing veins). The other species have additional small white spots. When at rest with wings folded, V. tameamea can be distinguished from V. atalanta by a longer pale patch or multiple pale patches on the underside of the hindwing (vs. a pale spot in V. atalanta). It also lacks the blue-centered eyespots of V. virginiensis and V. cardui.
   
Other species of Vanessa occurring in Hawaii
The Red Admiral (V. atalanta) is the only Vanessa in Hawaiʻi that shares the same hostplant (māmaki) as V. tameamea, so it is likely to be found in the same habitats. It is also the species most likely to be confused with the V. tameamea, especially when at rest, with only the underside of the wings showing. The white dot on the leading edge of the underside of the hindwing easily distinguishes it from V. tameamea. The upper surface of the wings differs from the Kamehameha butterfly in that both wings are mostly dark brown to black, and the orange band on the forewing lacks dark patches. 
The Painted Lady or Cosmopolitan (V. cardui) is superficially similar to V. tameamea, but has more white spots and bands in the black area of the forewing, and also has conspicuous eyespots on the underside of the hindwing, with blue centers. The caterpillars of V. cardui feed on weeds in the family Asteraceae (e.g. thistles), so their host plants do not overlap with those of the Kamehameha butterfly. V. cardui is similar to V. virginiensis, but all of its spots on the upper surface of the hindwing lack blue centers, and its blue eyespots on the underside of the hindwing are smaller. 
The American Painted Lady (V. virginiensis) is very similar to V. cardui. It differs from V. tameamea in the presence of additional small white dots in the black area on the upper surface of the forewing, and at least one of the dark spots on the hindwing is blue in the center. It also has very large, conspicuous eyespots on the underside of the hindwing, which separates it from the other species of Vanessa in Hawaiʻi. Like V. cardui, caterpillars of V. virginiensis specialize on weeds in the family Asteraceae, and are not found on the same plants as the Kamehameha butterfly.

 Side by side comparisons of Vanessa spp.
   V. tameamea V. atalanta V. cardui V. virginiensis
Resting with
wings open
   Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) on ivy - geograph.org.uk - 1519665  Distelfalter4  American Lady Vanessa virginiensis Upper Wings 1609px
Resting with
wings folded
 Red Admiral (7728048228)  Distelfalter (Vanessa cardui)  Vanessa virginiensisPCSL03914B1
Caterpillar  Vanessa atalanta larva  Vanessa cardui - caterpillar 06 (HS)  

Other orange and black butterflies occurring in Hawaii
The Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) is orange and black, and is sometimes mistaken for the Kamehameha butterfly, but is easily distinguishable. The white spots bordering its wings are much more numerous than those of the Kamehameha butterfly, and the underside of the hindwings has striking black bands against a light orange surface. The monarch also tends to be larger than the Kamehameha butterfly. Caterpillars are very distinctive, and feed on plants in the milkweed family (e.g. balloon plant, crownflower).  
The Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) is also easily distinguishable from the Kamehameha butterfly, although it is about the same size. The forewings lack the large black region at their tips, and and the undersides of the hindwings are covered with large silvery-white spots. The caterpillars of this butterfly (red with black spines) feed on plants in the passion flower family (e.g. lilikoʻi, banana poka). The butterfly is common, and adults may be seen flying in some of the same habitats as the Kamehameha butterfly.
 





  Other orange and black butterflies occurring in Hawaii
 The Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) is orange and black, and is sometimes mistaken for the Kamehameha butterfly, but is easily distinguishable. The white spots bordering its wings are much more numerous than those of the Kamehameha butterfly, and the underside of the hindwings has striking black bands against a light orange surface. The monarch also tends to be larger than the Kamehameha butterfly. Caterpillars are very distinctive, and feed on plants in the milkweed family (e.g. balloon plant, crownflower). The Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) is also easily distinguishable from the Kamehameha butterfly, although it is about the same size. The forewings lack the large black region at their tips, and and the undersides of the hindwings are covered with large silvery-white spots. The caterpillars of this butterfly feed on plants in the passion flower family (e.g. lilikoi, banana poka). The butterfly is common, and adults may be seen flying in some of the same habitats as the Kamehameha butterfly.
 

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