Thursday, January 1, 2015

Evolutionary Survival Features: Bluff and Deceit among Lepidopterans

Dr Abe V Rotor
Living with Nature School on Blog
Paaralang Bayan sa Himpapawid (People's School-on-Air) with Ms Melly C Tenorio
738 DZRB AM Band, 8 to 9 evening class Monday to Friday
Which is the head? Tail? It's Nature's bluff and deceit. The tail looks menacing with false eyes and horns, while the head is obscure in deep purple. Even if the rear is attacked, this skipper has the chance to escape as long as its front wings are intact.Unassuming and almost immobile this moth has a very potent defense mechanism - its sends off a cloud of dusts when disturbed. The dusts appear like tiny spears under the microscope which are made of chitin - the same material that makes the resistant exoskeleton of insects and other arthropods. 
Like eyes of the owl, this skipper can outsmart a would-be predator, and if that's not enough, it shows off four pairs of eyes to confuse the enemy. And the game changes to numbers - another bluff. 


Sulfur butterfly, on the other hand, is a show off, exhibiting its phosphorescence in the dark, and its brilliance in the sun. Who would relish the taste of sulfur? Most predators don't - house lizards, frogs, preying mantis, birds - not even toads. Even the camera can't fully capture the details of this master camouflage.

Two positions this skipper assumes at an instant - a stealth (upper photo) and a conventional airplane - to ward off its enemy. Predators become confused by its instant transformation and subsequent agility to take off and get away from danger.


Here is a two-headed hydra of Greek mythology. Predators would rather search for another prey.

This is one for Ripley's Believe it or Not. The biggest monarch butterfly (Danaus) is found in the Philippines. Bigness is also the name of the game of bluff and deceit.

Note: This specimen is handcrafted. You can find it at the back of the residence of the late Dr Jose P Rizal in Calamba, Laguna. Photos by Matthew Marlo R Rotor

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