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Defense Tactics of The Butterflies and the Caterpillars

Oh! look at the butterfly,

She is so tender and bright,
Wherever she wants to fly,
Whether it is dawn or night,
She fly and fly and fly.

Whenever we think or see a butterfly a very gentle, tender emblem figures out in front of our eyes. The vivid color patterns of its wings, its delicate soft body, alluring eyes, soothing antennae, its magnificent act of sucking nectar, all fills us with immense pleasure. Butterflies are very commonly seen hovering here and there in the environment. Children are often seen trying to catch them in the gardens.

Butterflies are bewitching insects belonging to the Class Insecta and the order Lepidoptera. They are very well adapted to escape from their foes.Their bright contrasting patterned wings help them to remain protected from their rivals. Butterflies are fragile, defenceless creatures, easily preyed by mites, birds, spiders, reptiles etc. They prevent themselves in a number of ways.

Butterflies have well developed property of camouflage. Some butterflies blend into their environment so eminently that it becomes impossible to trace them out. Some resemble the dead leaves as the Indian leaf butterfly. Some butterflies are poisonous, when a predator consumes them it becomes sick, vomits them and learns not to eat this type of butterfly again. Thus, the sacrifice of one butterfly saves the life of a million of butterflies. Many butterflies have bright warning patterns. The Monarch butterfly eats the milkweed plant to become poisonous and becomes protected from the predators.

The technique of mimicry is well developed in butterflies. Mimicry is when two unrelated species have similar markings. Batesian mimicry is acquired when a non- poisonous butterfly attains patterns similar to those found on the poisonous ones and gain protection. Mullerian mimicry is attained when two poisonous species have similar markings, fewer ones have to sacrifice their lives in order to teach the predators that they are unpalatable for them. Viceroy and the Monarch butterflies fall under this category.

Flying is another defence mechanism of butterflies. Slow flying butterflies fly at a rate of 5 mile per hour and the fast flying butterflies fly at about 30 mile per hour.

There are four stages in the life cycle of butterflies- egg, larva, pupa and adult. The delicate larva is popularly called as ‘caterpillar’. The caterpillar is the most vulnerable stage. It has developed a number of defence tactics.

Caterpillars are soft bodied and slow moving so fall easily in the hands of the predators. They have a number of techniques to defend them. Some caterpillars are poisonous to the predators. They obtain the poison from the host plants they eat. Their vivid, potent color reminds the predators regarding their toxicity. Caterpillars of Monarch and Pipevine Swallowtail butterflies are poisonous. Some caterpillars like the Tiger Swallowtail butterfly blend itself with the color exactly similar to that of a bird’s dropping and remains safe. Similarly many caterpillars attain various shades of green and resemble the leaves and remain protected.

Few caterpillars contain eye spots which gives them the look of dangerous animals like snakes so they prevent themselves from their enemies. Eye spots are large eye like circular spots on the bodies of the caterpillars. Some caterpillars conceal themselves in the folded leaf or some other places to remain safe. Some caterpillars emit bad smell when molested by the predators. These caterpillars have osmeterium an orange y- shaped gland on their neck which gives off strong unpleasant odor to ward off enemies. Wasps and other flies are driven away by this technique. The caterpillar of Zebra Swallowtail possess osmeterium.

Whether it is butterfly or caterpillar both have well developed tactics to escape from their enemies in order to stay alive. This fight for survival have led them to adapt suitably in the environment.

Original Author: Navodita Maurice Full Bio
Navodita Maurice
Tags: Butterflies

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