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Butterfly Defense Mechanisms

Apart from quickly flying away, butterflies can also defend themselves in other different ways! Let’s see how these beautiful yet cunning creatures do that!

False heads

Hairstreak butterflies (family Lycaenidae) have tails and eyespots on their hindwings. They will rub these parts together, making them look like heads and twitching antennae. This diverts the attention of any potential enemy to the tails instead of the real heads. When a bird or spider grabs their "false heads", the butterflies can still escape!

Common Posy (Drupadia ravindra)

Common Posy (Drupadia ravindra)

Blending in

Butterflies conceal themselves from their enemies by disguise or protective colouring, making them easily overlooked.  For example, the Indian Leaf butterfly (Kallima paralekta) and Autumn Leaf (Doleschalia bisaltide) disguise themselves as a dried brown leaves when their wings are closed.

Indian Leaf butterfly (Kallima paralekta)

Indian Leaf butterfly (Kallima paralekta)

Autumn Leaf (Doleschalia bisaltide)

Autumn Leaf (Doleschalia bisaltide)

Beautiful but Toxic

Do not be deceived by the beautiful appearance of butterflies.  They might be poisonous.  Some butterflies store toxic chemicals from the plants they eat as caterpillars in their bodies. When an enemy eats these butterflies, it will be disgusted by the taste and get sick.  So, the predator learns to recognise and avoid such butterflies.

Giant African Swallowtail (Papilio antimachus), arguably the most toxic butterfly in the world.

Giant African Swallowtail (Papilio antimachus), arguably the most toxic butterfly in the world.

Surprise!

Some butterflies have false eyes inside their closed wings.  By suddenly flashing their wings open, they can intimidate potential predators.  For other butterflies, these eyespots divert the attention of a predator towards the wings, instead of vital body parts.  Therefore, the butterflies can still escape with a torn wing.

Blue Pansy (Junonia orithya)

Blue Pansy (Junonia orithya)

Great Eggfly (Hypolimnas bolina)

Great Eggfly (Hypolimnas bolina)

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