Thursday, December 2, 2010

Inter-species Mimicry in Butterflies

Hey guys!

Another butterfly hatched from my nursery today making that a total of some couple hundred butterflies that have been raised successfully in my home-made butterfly house thus far and many more on the way. However, with my departure to Angkor Wat for four days next Friday I have to come up with some alternatives to provide for my insects (food for the larvae, of course) but special provisions to be made for someone to come and check (and release) any butterfliess that may have emerged while I am gone. Meanwhile, take a look at the beauty that was born today. The much awaited Common Mormon female.

Common Mormon (P. Polytes) female

I really love raising these butterflies! Not only that they are fairly easy to raise (they feed on the same foodplants as the more common Lime Swallowtail) but the females have the most beautiful patterns on their hind wings consisting of multiple red spots that can take many different forms. Its like waiting for the the lottery to happen!

The red spots can be sparse, such as on my current specimen

Or more vibrant, like this.

The red spots on these butterflies were actually made to mimic another species of butterfly alltogether. The Crimson Rose butterfly (another one of my favourites) that is poisonous and therefore unedible to birds and other predators. The Common Mormon female (carrying the eggs and thus, the lifeline of the butterfly species) has evolved to mimic the wings of Crimson Rose butterflies thus avoiding being eaten. To the trained eye, however, these two butterflies can be distinguished quite simply. The Crimson Rose, as its name suggests come from the family of red-bodied swallowtails that is to say their bodies are colored a brilliant red, advertising the poison that actualy runs in their blood.

Crimson Rose Swallowtail
Insects have been mimicing each other for centuries, perhaps even millenia and predators, who are born with these instincts hardwired into their genetic code learn to leave the poisonous, and the poisonous looking ones alone. Why only some species exploit this to their advantage and why others do not, is still a mystery.

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