Butterfly Basics: Do butterflies mate with other species of butterflies?

A more scientific question that I am asked periodically is, "Does one kind of butterfly mate with other kinds of butterflies?"  Or in other words, "Do butterflies hybridize?"

The general answer to this question is "No!".  In North America I am not aware of any species that will step out-of-their-kind for dating and mating.  However I am not familiar with all of North America's species so hopefully someone will correct me if I am wrong.

However, in the tropics, there is one genus of butterfly that is notorious for hybridization and that is genus Heliconius.  Pictured below is Exhibit A.  This is one of the bugs that we received as a chrysalis at the Franklin Park Conservatory.  This vision in pink is a hybrid.  Of course, the question is a hybrid between what species?

I am 99% sure that one of the parents of this beauty is Heliconius cydno, also known as the Blue and White Longwing.  That is what the chrysalis was labeled from the Costa Rican grower, and the markings on the underside of the hindwing (not shown) are reminiscent of cydno.

Typical Blue and White Longwing ( Heliconius cydno )

Typical Blue and White Longwing (Heliconius cydno)

The other parent is most likely either Heliconius melpomene or Heliconius erato, Postman and Small Postman respectively.  One of the things that complicates Heliconius identification is that several of the species, and all of those listed above, have numerous subspecies.  In fact, for each of the three above, the number of documented subspecies is well into the twenties, some of which looking absolutely nothing like other members of the their species but looking amazingly similar to members of other species.  

Typical Small Postman ( Heliconius erato ).

Typical Small Postman (Heliconius erato).

Confused yet?  If not then I have done a poor job as a writer because Heliconius taxonomy and identification is very confusing, even for the experts.

I am normally NOT one of those people who are content to say, "Isn't that a pretty one?!" With the Heliconius however, I will begrudgingly make an exception!  A truly beautiful group of bugs who at the end of the day I am not sure who I am looking at, but they certainly are pretty.

Thankfully, our central Ohio butterflies are pretty without being confusing!