Bio-rhythm of the Butterfly

Article by Paramita Ghosh

“Butterflies flutter.
Butterflies fly.
They put a sparkle
In your eye.”

Yes, every one of us love to see this colourful winged creature, the butterfly. From high school days, we’ve read that a not so good-looking caterpillar turns into a beautiful butterfly, right? What if you get a hands-on experience in this? Here, I am going to deal mostly with plain tiger butterfly (Danaus chrysippus), a species mostly found in tropical regions of India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia etc. Well, let’s begin…

Stage – 1: Moths, butterflies undergo complete metamorphosis (it looks very different in each stage, egg, larva, pupae and adult). Do you have any Akanda plant (Calotropis gigantea) at or near your house? If yes, go there and check whether you can find any tiny white dome-shaped egg either on stem or undersides of leaves. Female butterfly lays a lot of eggs at a stretch so that at least some of them survive.
Stage – 2: Sometimes it gets very difficult to figure out the eggs! The eggs take to 2 to 3 days to become transparent. Small whitish larva breaks the eggshell, comes out and eats it. This eggshell is probably the first nutrient of larvae. From now on, its only job is nothing but eating the Akanda leaves (a larva will always feed on a certain plant leaves), digesting and getting bigger and bigger! It can grow 100 times their size during this stage and saves energy for future use.
Check if the leaves or buds or leaves are half eaten. You may find a black and green striped junior caterpillar! Carefully keep it inside a wide mouth glass jar and put some leaves into it and cover the jar with a netting or a nylon cloth and do not keep the jar in a dark place. The caterpillar keeps on shedding its outer cuticle until it finds a safe place to hang and moults into the next stage, the pupal stage.
N.B.- 1) Have a DSLR? Bingo! capture the time lapse of this fascinating moulting stage…from caterpillar to chrysalis (pupa)!
2) A small trick to distinguish between a caterpillar is of a moth or a butterfly- quite simple, outer surface caterpillar of a moth is hairy whereas larva of a butterfly has smooth skin.
Stage-3: A neon green pupa, the most dramatic part of this metamorphosis. For plain tiger, this stage lasts for exactly one week, but for others it may take little longer, sometimes more than a year! Enormous chemical changes happen inside, which is barely understandable for first few days. Some cells of larva will now grow rapidly and form legs, wings, antennae etc. On top that, some cells will provide energy from its reservoir!!
Stage-4: The green pupa becomes transparent at the end of one week. You can now spot the wings, head and legs of plain tiger. Once the pupal case splits, the butterfly comes out of it with its head upside down. Generally, this takes place in the morning. It expels some metabolic waste products, accumulated in the pupal stage. Any butterfly can’t fly at this moment. It will slowly unfold its wings by pumping blood into it. Now our plain tiger is ready to spread its wings and fly higher and higher.
Stage-5: Lifespan of an adult butterfly is barely 2 to 3 weeks. The only job of a male butterfly is to find a female partner and mate. They spread a chemical substance; pheromones stored in scent pockets on the wings to provoke a female counterpart! Now the she has to find the suitable plant and lay eggs.

Watch a butterfly,
And in a short while
It will give you
A butterfly smile!

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