Beautiful butterfly at home: growth in photos!

Last week, my mum found a caterpillar ravaging her young lemon tree. It had, like most caterpillars, camouflaged itself and blended in so smoothly that it managed to live unspotted right under her nose for days before the damage to the plant was too apparent to be missed. The caterpillar had eaten much of the leaves and shoots in a span of just 2-3 days and so my mum considered the fellow to be more active than any of the other caterpillars that we occasionally find on the plants at home. But that wasn't what caught my curiosity when she called me over to show it - the caterpillar was different from any that I had seen anywhere in Male'! This caterpillar was larger (~1cm across and ~3cm in length) and really sinister looking.

I decided to put the caterpillar under observation, afterall a caterpillar is just the larva stage of a butterfly and should go through the various stages over a few days to become a full grown adult butterfly. Over the course of almost 2 weeks, I watched as it first continued to consume leaves all day and then go into stasis for the pupa stage and remain apparently lifeless for several days, before (quite suddenly and unseen to me) the pupa metamorphosized into a beautiful large adult butterfly. The fellow had red spots/blotches on the hindwings, few white streaks on the forewings and was black everywhere else and sported wings with a wingspan of ~10-14cm.

The butterfly was of a specie I had not seen here in Male' previously, though its existence does necessitate that a butterfly laid eggs on the plant recently - quite unlike the way of the sudden-uncaused-creation ("gudhurathee ufedhun") of caterpillar larvae that some of our visitors and neighbours claim(ed)! I still am not sure what these butterflies are called but from all the web searches and butterfly indexes that I've gone through since, I am pretty sure this butterfly belongs to the Swallowtail Papilionidae family in the Papilionoidea class of butterflies. The most similar looking butterfly that I could find was the Common Rose butterflies which bear striking similarities. It might also be related to the Citrus Swallowtail specie too since the larva was found on a citrus tree plant and the caterpillars look very similar but the adult butterfly looks different while the Crimson Rose family has adult butterflies that look very similar but different caterpillars. This is, ofcourse, all just speculation simply based on my (very) crude and limited phenotypic observations and I could be wayyyy off mark...

Here are some pictures I snapped in keeping up with the development of this beautiful insect. The latter three stages (of the total four) of a butterfly have been captured to my best ability: the larva, the pupa and finally, the adult. Enjoy!





Soon after metamorphosis: the "tails" of the wings breaking off

Adult black butterfly with red spots, white streaks...

Adult/Imago close up - see the neat proboscis!?

The pupa shell that was left behind


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