The butterfly effect
The rains are a signal for butterflies to lay their eggs on young host plants. Follow the incredible metamorphosis of the majestic Orange awlet from larva stage, through a chrysalis to spread its wings for the author to capture the entire process in camera.
It was a rainy Sunday morning in July, when we started our nature trail within Mumbai city, looking for monsoon fauna, butterflies and other insects. After an hour or so, we noticed several yellow caterpillars of the Brown Awl butterfly on a Hiptage benghalensis plant, commonly called Madhavi Lata in Marathi. All of them were feeding voraciously on the leaves.
A few caterpillars were more attractive than the others – black bodies with yellow stripes and a redhead. A closer look at the head confirmed that this was a caterpillar of the rare Orange Awlet (Burara jaina). On searching around, we even managed to find a beautiful orange egg. I have been documenting butterfly lifecycles for some time now, but so far never managed to record this species. I decided to take one of the caterpillars with me; the healthiest looking one (approximately 5cm in length), assuming that it would pupate in the next 2-3 days. Along with the caterpillar, I took some Hiptage leaves.
The caterpillar started eating immediately and we had to clean the container after every 6 hours or so (this is a must for the survival of the caterpillar). After 2 days, it stopped eating, shed its skin and went into the 5th instar, the final stage of the caterpillar. As a result, I had to get more leaves for it to feed on. On the 17th day, once again, the caterpillar stopped eating. By this time it had grown to a mammoth size of 7cm in length and 1cm in width. Pupation happened on the 18th day. The pupa was attached to the leaf by a short band of silk. The empty head capsule and some shredded skin were left out of the pupa. The fresh pupa was brilliantly-coloured, but after a few days, some whitish patches started appearing on it. Twenty-eight days after the 5th instar had emerged, the pupa started to show some black patches, signalling the end of the development of the adult within. Eclosion took place the next day.
Usually, most butterflies emerge early in the morning, between 5 am and 8 am. But as hours passed away, there was no movement in the pupa. Finally, at around 11 am, I noticed some vibrations from the inside. Within a few seconds, the beautiful Orange Awlet emerged with ease. Luckily, my camera captured this whole sequence. Like any other butterfly, the adult rested for sometime after emerging, and within this time I managed to click some high magnification images of its head and wings. After about 30 minutes, it was ready to fly. Being crepuscular (active at dawn and dusk) in nature, it was not very energetic at the moment. To complete the cycle, I released the butterfly in the same spot from where I had collected the caterpillar.
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