Take a look at the photo below. Can you spot the butterfly chrysalis?
To be fair, I didn’t tell you what type of butterfly chrysalis to look for. They vary widely from species to species, and it helps to know what you’re trying to find. This one is a Giant Swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes). See it now?
There it is, right in the center of the photo. It looks almost exactly like a part of the twig, doesn’t it? This is one of my favorite examples of camouflage in the butterfly world. The Giant Swallowtail uses citrus trees as its host plant. Their caterpillars feed on the leaves, and when they pupate to chrysalis, their skin has evolved to look so much like bark that it’s hard to believe. If this twig were still covered in leaves, you’d have been unlikely to spot it at all, no matter how experienced you are with butterflies.
That skin is paper thin, and inside the caterpillar is busy transforming into a butterfly. It would make a tasty mouthful for a bird, or a full meal for an ant colony. But this camouflage protects it well. In addition, many citrus trees have thorns – this is a native Wild Lime tree, which doesn’t make edible fruit but produces formidable thorns. A predator would have to fight its way through the protective branches to dine on this butterfly chrysalis.
Incidentally, Giant Swallowtails are pretty good at camouflage as caterpillars too. In their larger instars, they’ve evolved to look just like, well… bird poop.
It’s almost ridiculous, isn’t it? That looks like a slimy pile of yuck, but it’s actually the larva of one of the biggest and most beautiful butterflies in North America. You can’t see it here, but they also have an osmeterium. These fleshy protuberances stick out from the front of the head when they’re alarmed, releasing volatile oils with a foul smell. These hurt the eyes of predators and make them smell really unappetizing – trust me!
Interested in learning more about the butterfly chrysalis and seeing more examples? Click here.