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Pulelehua (Kamehameha Butterfly)

Scientific name: Vanessa tameamea

The pulelehua, or Kamehameha butterfly, is one of only two butterflies that are native to Hawai'i. With its bright red wings, bold black borders, and 2 1/2 inch wingspan, pulelehua are often seen fluttering near koa trees, where adults feed on the sweet sap oozing from broken branches.

The Kamehameha butterfly lays its eggs on the mamaki plant, a native shrub that was sometimes used by Hawaiians to make a coarse tapa (the leaves are also used to make an herbal tea). Young caterpillars protect themselves by cutting a flap of leaf, pulling it over themselves, and securing it with silk to make a shelter. As they grow older, the caterpillars sit motionless on the branches, waiting for nightfall. Once the sun has set and the forest birds have gone to sleep, it is safe for the caterpillars to venture onto the leaves to eat. Even their chrysalis is well-camouflaged, looking like a withered leaf. In a little over two weeks, the chrysalis splits open, and out pops a beautiful pulelehua!

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