Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Plain Tiger

The Plain Tiger, also known as the African Monarch, is a common butterfly found throughout Asia and Africa. It belongs to the Danainae subfamily of the brush footed butterfly family, Nymphalidae. It is also supposed to have been one of the first butterflies used in art. A 3500 year old fresco in Luxor features this butterfly and is the oldest known illustration of the species.  More images and info inside.

The Plain Tiger is a medium sized butterfly with a wing span of around 7-8 cm. The male Plain Tiger is smaller than the female but is brighter in colour. This leads me to believe that the butterflies in the first two images are male.

Male Danaines have a number of secondary sexual characteristics. In the case of the Plain Tiger, these include, a pouch on the hind wing and two brush  like organs which can be pushed out of the tip of the abdomen. The pouch of the male is white with a thick black border and bulges slightly. It is a cluster of specialised scent scales used to attract females.

This butterfly is found in any environment including the desert (if there is food available) and up to an elevation of 9000 feet. This butterfly is probably the commonest of Indian butterflies and is a familiar site to almost everyone on the subcontinent. 

The Plain tiger is protected from predators due to the unpalatable alkaloids ingested during the larval stage. Due to this fact the butterflies fly at a leisurely pace in a straight line giving would be predators ample time to identify it and avoid attacking it.  The butterfly has a tough leathery skin to survive occasional attacks. When attacked, it fakes death and oozes a nauseating liquid which makes it smell and taste terrible. The advantage of protection has led to a number of edible butterflies evolving to resemble inedible butterflies. They are referred to as mimics. The resemblance is not limited to colour, shapes and markings but also in behavioural and flight patterns. The Plain tiger is mimicked by the Indian Fritillary and the Danaid Eggfly. The Indian Tamil Lacewing, the Leopard Lacewing and the Common Palmfly have a general resemblance common to both the Plain Tiger and the Common Tiger.

All these images were captured with the Canon 7D and the 100-400mm lens. I would have been able to get closer to the butterfly but was limited by the minimum focusing distance of the lens.

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