Caterpillars are creepy? Each time I would see a worm or a caterpillar wriggling I would let out a shriek that would stun people around me. They sniggered when they found the reason. Times change, now I adore caterpillars. I got into the company of some ardent butterfly watchers who would not mind lying on a slushy floor or walk miles together in pursuit of butterflies. With them I started to learn fascinating facts about butterflies. Butterflies exhibit mimicry, they migrate, plan amazing strategies to avoid predators and the list goes on. One life time is not enough to learn about them. To understand butterflies better one has to learn botany as well.
On one instance I had collected a Pioneer caterpillar from a Capparis plant from one of my trails. When I got back home I kept the caterpillar in a container and offered capparis leaves which I had collected from my neighborhood. The caterpillar did not touch the leaves at all. I was worried as to why it was not eating. Then I realized that I had given it the wrong leaves, my kids giggled when they found me trying counsel the caterpillar by pleading “swalpa adjust maadi, tomorrow I will get capparis leaves to eat”. I panicked because if the caterpillar did not eat it would die. I searched thoroughly for the right plant in my neighborhood and finally found it near a railway line. What a relief it was when I found that the caterpillar started eating. This caterpillar ate and finally turned into a beautiful butterfly below. This butterfly taught me to identify a plant which I will never forget .
On our visit to FRLHT we found two species of Aristolochia which had eclectic patterns on them. Trying to figure out a pattern in nature is a pretty engaging activity by itself. Though there were so many other flowering plants around, this flower with its psychedelic pattern kept capturing our attention on it for a long time. This pattern of the flower of Aristolochia elagans looks like a fractal image. These patterns and its charecteristic smell attracts pollinators inside the flower and after the insect is brushed with pollens it is let out. A detailed decsription can be found here .
Dutchmans pipe (Aristolochia elegans) is native to South America. Richmond Birdwing butterfly lays its eggs on Aristolochia elegans instead of its host plant (Pararistolochia praevenosa ) which belongs to the same family as A.elegans. Probably the butterflies look out for larval host plants by checking its chemical constituents. So the caterpillars that come out of eggs that are laid on A.elegans do not survive as this is not the plant it is supposed to lay eggs. Aristolochia elegans is a mojor threat to the Richmond birdwing birdwing butterfly.
The Crimson Rose butterfly and the Southern Birdwings common larval host plant is Aristolochia indica. These butterflies feed on these poisonous plants to keep the predators away.
Despite its survival mechanisms to evade predators, sometimes these butterflies do tend to lay eggs on the plants belonging to the same family (Aristolochiae), but different species, as a result the larvae dies. After the Capparis incident I had assumed that butterflies cannot make mistakes but now I realized that they do tend to make mistakes . There is no end to learning when we start wondering about facts that fascinate us.
Plant taxonomists are figuring out ways to identify the plants in a more accurate way. Aristolochia species have very good medicinal uses. The fractal descriptors provide an accurate and reliable method of discrimination of the plant species. It is a powerful method for analyzing plants using only their leaves. This is a remarkable ﬁnding, as the leaves are almost always available and the computational technique that is simple and inexpensive. This study will be useful for analysing ethanopharmacological field data, with the aim to select species with most prominent impact to treat a single disease .