A common butterfly of the tropical lowlands and foothills, the Dirce Beauty (also known as Small Beauty) is easily recognized by its underside with black and white zebra striping, as it always rests with its head down and wings closed on tree trunks. The upperside of its wings are dark with a wide yellowish-white diagonal band on each forewing. The forewing is 3.5-3.7 cm in length. Eggs are white and laid in small clusters of 2-10. The striking aterpillars are black with white or yellow rosetted spines down the back and sides. The caterpillar’s head is shiny black with two prominent recurved white or yellow horns and a little crown of short black spines forming a ring around its head. Young caterpillars make frass chains along leaf edges. Caterpillars form aggregations on Cecropia leaves, their host plant. Aggregations may contain caterpillars of all instars. This interesting lepidoptera may be one of those where the caterpillar is even more arresting to encounter than the pretty adult butterfly!
The host plants of the Dirce Beauty are Cecropia trees, particularly C. insignis, C. obtusifolia and C. peltata. Caterpillars feed exclusively on Cecropia leaves and stems. Adults have a rather grotesque diet, feeding on rotting fruits, juices of dead animals, animal feces and even wet fabrics. Dirce Beauty is essentially a canopy species, but it can be found at all levels from the ground to the canopy of the forest. Adults are found year-round.
Ranging from Mexico to Argentina, Dirce Beauty is found in a wide range of habitats, mostly secondary growth, wherever Cecropia trees are found. In Panama, this common species can be found around all of the Canopy Family lodges. They are often seen perching on tree trunks, or on fruit feeders. Caterpillars have been seen in big clusters devouring the leaves of the Cecropia trees beside the Canopy Tower.