Journal of Insect Conservation

, Volume 19, Issue 6, pp 1141–1151 | Cite as

Natural history and systematic position of Rhetus belphegor (n. comb.) (Lepidoptera: Riodinidae), an endangered butterfly with narrow distribution in Southeast Brazil

  • Lucas A. Kaminski
  • Glória R. Soares
  • Noemy Seraphim
  • Niklas Wahlberg
  • Onildo J. Marini-Filho
  • André V. L. Freitas


The riodinid Rhetus belphegor (Westwood) (n. comb., previously in the genus Nirodia) is a critically endangered butterfly confined to the “campos rupestres”; a high-altitude rocky outcrop vegetation from southeast Brazil. The aim of this study is to unveil its biology and evaluate its systematic position. Based on museum data and public contribution of data (in the context of citizen science), R. belphegor is restricted to the “Espinhaço Mountain Chain”, and occurs exclusively above 1000 m. Adults were found resting upside down on rock walls. Females searched for host plants during the hottest hours of the day, depositing 1–2 eggs on leaves of the herbaceous subshrub Microstachys serrulata (Euphorbiaceae). The non-myrmecophilous larvae developed through six instars and the developmental time from egg to adult was ~50 days. Larvae are covered with abundant setae. Morphology of immature stages and molecular phylogenetic analysis showed that Nirodia is part of Rhetus, justifying the generic change. Our data supports that Nirodia is the only species in its clade associated with high mountains, in contrast to its lowland congeners. The description of the immature biology and clarification on its systematic position are essential steps for the establishment of better and more effective conservation efforts for this magnificent Brazilian butterfly.


Citizen science Conservation Immature stages Monotypic taxon Neotropical Riodinini 



We thank Edward E. Júnior and Ivan B. Campos, who facilitated the work in the Serra do Cipó National Park, and Daniel Rios, who facilitated the work in the Sempre-Vivas National Park. We thank the ICMBio for the research permits (SISBIO no. 21894-2). We also thank Gustavo Shimizu and Allan C. Pscheidt for host plant identification; Felipe M. Ribeiro and Luísa L. Mota for kindly help by taking some beautiful photos; Tamara Moreira and Luísa L. Mota for their help in the laboratory and Cristiano A. Iserhard for assistance in field. Ivan Sazima and Marcio Uehara-Prado helped with some records of R. belphegor in Serra do Cipó. Fernando C. Campos Neto provided information and pictures of immature stages of R. periander. Our special thanks to Walter R. Cerqueira and Augusto Gomes, who reported the presence of R. belphegor in Lapinha da Serra and Serra da Moeda, respectively, helping to expand the known distribution of this species on about 50 km SW. LAK was supported by CNPq (163119/2013-9) and CAPES (3200-14-0). NS was supported by CNPq (141254/2013-0) and CAPES (3700/14-3). AVLF thanks the CNPq (fellowship 302585/2011-7), the National Science Foundation (DEB-1256742) and the BIOTA-FAPESP Program (11/50225-3). NW acknowledges funding from the Academy of Finland (265511). This publication is part of the RedeLep “Rede Nacional de Pesquisa e Conservação de Lepidópteros” SISBIOTA-Brasil/CNPq (563332/2010-7), of the project “Identificação Molecular de Biodiversidade de Invertebrados Terrestres” (Grant 564954/2010-1) included in the “Rede Nacional de Identificação Molecular da Biodiversidade—BR-BoL” (MCT/CNPq/FNDCT 50/2010), and of the collaborative grant ‘Dimensions US-BIOTA São Paulo: A multidisciplinary framework for biodiversity prediction in the Brazilian Atlantic forest hotspot’, US NSF, NASA and FAPESP (Grant 2013/50297-0). This paper is dedicated to Ivan Sazima for being the first person to photograph this species in alive, and to Keith S. Brown, who provided extensive compilation of all previously available data for this species. Together, they both inspired us to study the natural history of R. belphegor, and made us understand the importance of studying basic natural history of organisms to better understand their ecology and systematics.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lucas A. Kaminski
    • 1
    • 2
  • Glória R. Soares
    • 3
  • Noemy Seraphim
    • 1
  • Niklas Wahlberg
    • 4
    • 5
  • Onildo J. Marini-Filho
    • 6
  • André V. L. Freitas
    • 1
  1. 1.Departamento de Biologia Animal and Museu de Zoologia, Instituto de BiologiaUniversidade Estadual de CampinasCampinasBrazil
  2. 2.Institut de Biologia Evolutiva (CSIC-UPF)BarcelonaSpain
  3. 3.PPG-Ecologia, Instituto de BiologiaUniversidade Federal de ViçosaViçosaBrazil
  4. 4.Department of BiologyUniversity of TurkuTurkuFinland
  5. 5.Department of BiologyLund UniversityLundSweden
  6. 6.Centro Nacional de Pesquisa e Conservação da Biodiversidade do Cerrado e CaatingaInstituto Chico Mendes de Conservação da BiodiversidadeBrasíliaBrazil

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