Isabella's Heliconian (Eueides isabella) life history
Isabella's Heliconian (Eueides isabella) Life History



First instar

Second instar

Third instar

Fourth instar

Early fifth instar

Late fifth instar (different caterpillar - note white markings on face)

Prepupal caterpillar

Ready to pupate


Fresh female Isabella's Heliconian, ventral view (note yellow antennae)

Fresh male Isabella's Heliconian, dorsal view (note black antennae)

Raising Isabella's Heliconian turned out to be a community effort. Candi and Seth Welliver of Mission, TX, found a female which they gave to me on November 28, 2020. Cat Traylor of Edinburg, TX, provided most of the host plant I used - she had large, established vines of Passiflora platyloba and P. edulus growing at her house. All of us raised some of the caterpillars. At a guess, the female produced around 100 eggs over a period of two weeks, and we successfully reared 70-80 caterpillars. (I normally would not have collected so many eggs, but it seemed pointless to release the female near my house, given we were enduring a cold snap and also she was unlikely to find suitable host plant. Three weeks after I received the female, I was able to return her to the Wellivers' on a mild, sunny day. She was in excellent condition and flew off quite snappily when we released her.)

I placed the butterfly in a pop-up cage with lots of host plant. During the day I misted it heavily, and covered it with plastic to maintain high humidity. At night the cage was uncovered to allow drying to prevent mold. I would remove the female morning and evening to feed her. She took a long time to feed and one day I was busy so I just put the food in the cage. She went right to it so after that feeding was less work!

Eggs were deposited on both of the host plants mentioned above. They were primarily placed on leaves; occasionally on stems or on the cage itself. After the female was known to be laying eggs, I placed some fresh cuttings in the cage one evening and removed them the next. The eggs on those cuttings took about 6 days to eclose. Given that the first eggs hatched on December 5, the female probably started laying the day after I received her. However, it was several days before I realized she was producing.

The caterpillars changed quite a bit as the matured, as can be seen from the photo essay. Usually, major changes in a caterpillar's appearance come only with molts. With the Isabella's Heliconians, the final instars had distinct stages of coloration. The main color of the back was black when they first entered this instar. After a few days the black changed to maroon; when the caterpillar was prepupal, it was two distinct shades of yellow, and finally when ready to pupate it was solid yellow. The faces were also varied, some being almost solid black, others having numerous white markings. Pictured below is the most common form; there were also many that had markings resembling a nose and two "dimples".


Face of Isabella's Heliconian

The caterpillars tended to pupate on leaves of the host plant. The chrysalis was remarkable for the numerous projections it had. I'm not certain, but I suspect it resembles some sort of fungal growth.

Almost all of our pupae produced viable adults, which we released. Of the three of us who reared the caterpillars, I was the last to get an adult emergence (perhaps because of cooler rearing conditions?). On January 15, a full month and a half after oviposition began, I had my first fresh Isabella's Heliconian. He was quite the handsome fellow.

Isabella's Heliconian Page