Medium to large sized butterflies with the wings distinctly elongated. Most often with bright contrasting colors in patterns of stripes and large spots; sometimes the pattern is a more even orange, or sometimes it is much as in the Fritillaries. The palpi on the face are prominent, and the long antennae usually have prominent but tapering clubs. The humeral vein of the hind wing curves toward the base of the wing, instead of the other direction as in most other butterflies.
Larvae are relatively slender, often brightly colored, with paired rows of long scoli (spines) that bear short side branches, and with a similar prominent pair on the head, but with no mid-dorsal row.
Pupae are distinctive; they are relatively slender, and S-curved in shape, with the area of the wing-cases somewhat bulging and convex ventrally / concave dorsally in profile. The bulk of the abdomen curves somewhat in the opposite direction. There are paired rows of dorsal projections, some often greatly enlarged and flattened, some often bearing slender spines; however, there is no mid-dorsal row, except for a sometimes prominent projection from the dorsum of the thorax. There is a pair of projections from the head that may also be greatly elongate or somewhat expanded. Often there are also many small spine-like projections scattered on the ventral side of the body, especially along the antennae. Often there is some metalic ornamentation in the usual places on the dorsal side.
Neotropical. North and South America, and associated islands. The genus Vindula from the Indo-Australian region may also belong, but it's placement remains somewhat uncertain. The genus Cethosia, also from the Indo-Australian region is sometimes also included, but is more often associated with the related tribe Acraeini.
Larvae use members of the Passifloraceae (inculdes Turneraceae), primarily Passion Vines in the genus Passiflora. Adults visit flowers for nectar, and many visit puddles, ripe fruit, tree sap, etc. At least some Heliconius species are unique among butterflies in feeding on certain types of pollen.
This group is known for it's member's beautiful and varied coloration, and also for being distastful to predators (the two subjects being related). Many members are models for mimics and/or are members of mimicry complexes. Members have been subjects for many studies on mimicry, genetics, and hybridization. They are often favorites for use in live butterfly displays.
Many species aggregate during nighttime in communal roosts, with many individuals (often of more than one species at a time) returning to the same spot night after night. This roosting behavior can often be observed in living butterfly displays, where the butterflies may also be seen to remain roosting together through the daytime during inclement weather.