No teeth, no claws, but very much a Tiger!

Not the cuddliest tiger around but certainly the safest to introduce your kids to, this one is best chased with a camera on a sunny spring morning. If your intentions are evil, back off or you’ll be left with a bad taste in the mouth!

The Plain Tiger Butterfly (Danaus chrysippus) carries all the glory of a tiger. The bright orange wings are often left spread flaunting their brilliance, and the butterfly can be identified by its nonchalant flutter. It is the friendliest for a butterfly lover to start with, and we shall soon find out why…

The Plain Tiger has orange wings bordered with black and white on the inside and paler orange with black spots on the outside. The male can be distinguished from the female by the hindwing: The female has three black spots while the male has an additional black-and-white spot. It is probably the first butterfly that I ever photographed since I took up photography in any seriousness.
So what makes Plain Tigers so friendly and easy to photograph? The secret lies in the butterfly’s childhood dietary habits — yes, while it was a wee caterpillar sucking its little pinky-toes (well, not literally!). As a caterpillar, the Plain Tiger gorges on leaves that are rich in alkaloids. These contribute to making them unpalatable, leaving them with few natural enemies. When attacked by an ignorant predator that does not know how bad a taste it can leave in its mouth, the creature switches to plan B – it secretes a foul-smelling fluid that deters the by-now-repulsed predator.

These interesting defense mechanisms end up being very beneficial for other butterflies. For example, the female Danaid Eggfly (Hypolimnas misippus) mimics the Plain Tiger butterfly and this offers it protection from predators. With a little training, you can tell the mimic from the model (as the mimicked butterfly is called). The mimic has a more elaborate black-and-white pattern at the edge of the wingtips, but only to higher life forms like you and me. For relatively one-track-minded predators, it is another plain tiger butterfly that ought to be shunned.

Before you flip the page, read Arun’s detailed photo-documentation of the metamorphosis of the Plain Tiger Butterfly

Text and photos by Sandeep Somasekharan
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