We already knew La Fontaine’s frog who wanted to be as big as an ox. This time, it’s more about a caterpillar. Not quite happy with her condition either. And who wants to be as scary as a tarantula!
At the first shoteyeyou might well think you are dealing with a tarantula and not just any. Certainly the most repulsive of them. But on closer inspection — yes, even you, the arachnophobes –, it is indeed a caterpillar that you will discover. A caterpillar that deserves to be known, moreover because it is really not at all like the others.
This caterpillar belongs to the family of Limacodidae. A family found all over the world. And for good reason: there are at least 1,800 species. A family, above all, which takes its name from the funny shape of these larvae. They look like slugs. They are very flattened and they have suction cups. They move by undulating rather than using their prolegs. For this, they even rely on a kind of lubricanta liquefied silk.
A defense strategy
In the family of Limacodidae, many caterpillars are green and smooth. But some, like Phobetron hipparchia — sometimes also called “monkey slug caterpillar” — have a body bristling with tubercles. Like so many spider legs. They are covered with hairs which can be stinging and even cause pains quite intense if touched.
The question is: why does this caterpillar want to be as scary as a tarantula? Giving herself the appearance of a quality she doesn’t really have? Perhaps for a slightly nobler reason than that of the frog in La Fontaine’s fable who wanted to make himself as big as an ox. Because Phobetron hipparchia simply hopes to facilitate its survival. Escaping malicious onlookers by disguising herself as a fearsome predator.
The emergence of a flamboyant butterfly, the Dryas iulia The Dryas iulia is a butterfly that lives between Mexico, the West Indies and the southern United States. Its magnificent orange color earned it the nickname “torch”. On the left of the image, a young butterfly can be seen emerging from its chrysalis after its metamorphosis. Before taking flight, it must first let its wings smooth out and harden. It is only a few hours after its transformation that it will be able to flap its wings to gather its first flowers.© M van Ree, CC by-sa 2.0; Diego Delso, CC by-sa 3.0; Arlouk CCO
The metamorphosis of the Monarque, a winged king The Monarch (Danaus plexippus) is a butterfly known for its long migrations through America and Mexico. Several thousand insects travel at the same time to arrive at the breeding ground and die there. But, before starting this long journey which can reach 4,000 kilometres, the Monarch caterpillar must form its chrysalis. In the photo, the caterpillar has yellow and black stripes. At this stage, she has already moulted once and grows a little more after each moult. Eventually, she constructs a chrysalis after the fourth molt. When it emerges from the egg, it is about 6 millimeters long, but when it becomes a nymph it can reach 4 centimeters in length.© Ibanez92, CC by-sa 3.0; Derek Ramsey, GFDL 1.2
The Marbré de Fabricus and its beautiful shades of green The Marbled Fabricus (Pontia edusa) is a butterfly that can be found in flowering places in central and eastern Europe, including France. This medium-sized species is identifiable by its wings, which are essentially white when viewed from above, but whose reverse is adorned with grey-green mottling. It is a multivoltine species, which means that it can produce several generations per year, between two and four. The caterpillars, striped yellow and black, are present from May to October. To observe them, you have to look for resedas, a fairly common herbaceous plant in France.© Minutemen GFDL, CC by-sa-2.5; Esculapio, CC by-sa 3.0; Suju, CC0
The green caterpillar of Saturnia pavonia With its four “eyes” arranged on the back of its wings, Saturnia pavonia has inherited the nickname “little night peacock”. This nocturnal species is particularly impressive since the wingspan of the imago is between 4 and 8 centimeters for a male. Each year, the female lays more than 200 eggs on a stalk. The caterpillars grow between May and August and change color as they go. Here, the caterpillar is close to pupation and should soon create the chrysalis that will allow it to turn into a magnificent butterfly.© Patrick Clement CC by 2.0; Bernswaelz, CCO; Dom Greves, Fotolia
From a dark caterpillar to the Peacock of the day, a shimmering butterfly This black caterpillar, bristling with prickles, gives no indication of the shimmering butterfly it will become, the Peacock of the day (Aglais io). Despite its barbed wire appearance, it is neither pungent nor stinging, but very voracious. She is particularly fond of nettles, the leaves of which she devours. She metamorphoses for two weeks and abandons her black and shiny dress for brighter colors. Only the underside of the imago’s wings retain traces of the dark color of the caterpillar.© nidan; Andreas Eichler; Mabel Amber, CC0
The Flambé, a splendid butterfly This butterfly with cut-out wings is nicknamed the Flambé (Iphiclides podalirius). It is present throughout France and is recognizable by its long gliding flights. The caterpillar that will become this beautiful butterfly also sports an original appearance. Dressed all in green, it carries two orange antennae on its head. Eight weeks after its birth, it turns into a chrysalis attached to its host plant. To observe it, take a look at the blackthorn or cherry trees.© Leegenhyung CC0 ; Anton, Fotolia; Michael Schroeren, CC by-sa 4.0
The Wanderer from Malaysia Pareronia valeria is also called “the Malaysian wanderer” is a butterfly widespread in India and Southeast Asia. Males and females have very different appearances. Males are painted a subdued shade of pale blue between the brown streaks on their wings. The females, as in the photo, do not display this blue color and the shape of their wings also differs.© Firos AK CC0 ; Balakrishnan Valappil, CC by-nc 2.0; Manfredrichter, CC0
The Achillides, butterflies that hide their colors When it is like this, the wings folded, this butterfly appears black with a few touches of color. But, when he opens them, he reveals intense green hues with a few hints of brilliant blue. It is a characteristic of the paris group of the subgenus Achillides. These butterflies live in India or Southeast Asia.© Hsu Hong Lin, CC by 2.0; Jeevan Jose, CC by-sa 4.0; Arulonline, CC0
Heliconius charithonia, a stinging caterpillar for a zebra butterfly This butterfly with large rounded wings is well known to Americans since, since 1996, it has been the official butterfly of the State of Florida. More generally, it is found in several southern states such as Georgia or South Carolina. These striped wings make the Heliconius charithonia particularly recognizable, just like its caterpillar. White and bristling with long black spines, the latter does everything to dissuade its predators from attacking it. © Viktorhauk, DeadEyeArrow, CC by-sa 3.0
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