Saturday, 7 April 2018

who, when, where

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... those are the questions ...
(pictures taken from 0640 to 1717 hrs)

April 4th, in the early morning, as I opened the French doors to welcome the new day, 
I noticed this 'bump' ....
Who is this little fellow, wrapped in a camouflage leaf toga ?
Is it a caterpillar or ...?

 Are the eyes peering out through the slit mask ?
And see the 'veins'/striations on the 'toga' - similar to the Curry leaves.
And within 5 hours, the twig had become barren!

 What a rolled leaf backside view! 
Err, don't start getting naughty ideas (it's too small) ;-P

Turns out he 'masked head' is a late April Fools prank .... 
the small brown fuzzy head is under that broad slit mask! 

I saw it turning twice – once at noon and again in the evening, 
but could not capture it in time.
 Here the head is a bit more visible - 
that brown nub peeping out from under 'helmet'.

Notice how barren that same twig has become (leaves from nearby twigs were 
also devoured through the day, though not seen here).
Interestingly during the larval stage, half-eaten leaves give away their presence.
But now, the Entire Leaf disappears!

The last pic was taken in the evening - after 5pm. At 8pm, we went to see how it was - whether it had woven itself into a cocoon or was ready to open it's wings... Huh, it had disappeared completely !!!
Had the green 'leaf' wings opened up and let the moth/butterfly take to the air in such a short span? No bird came to peck it away - I'm sure of it.

When I tried a Google Images search it said this was a lizard. Ughhh! 

So help me answer the question(s). 
What or who is this? At what stage?
Where did it go?
Could it have opened it's wings at night?

I must confess that I should know the answer, having a Masters in Zoology, but well, tatting has devoured what little brain I had ;-P I'm still charmed and amazed - Adaptation, especially morphological, has been a particularly favourite subject in Ecology. 

Spring is the best - new life everywhere ! 

UPDATE : Thanks to the enthusiastic response, the questions are answered. It is a Common Mormon Butterfly caterpillar - 5th instar stage, ready to pupate. Here is an excellent article with pics of each stage . 
There are usually only 2 types of butterflies that visit our balcony - this large black beauty and the smaller yellow ones. I should've started my search from there! But blogging makes you lazy - it's easier to ask and wait for answers ;-P
Now let's wait and see if the butterfly emerges .... 


  1. My husband recognised it as a caterpillar and I found on Google it is the common mormon caterpillar, in the 5th instar (I honestly don't remember all the stages...). You sure had an interesting visitor. Too bad you lost track of it :)

    1. Thank you so much ! I Googled and yes, I had seen the earlier stages (that look like bird droppings) probably a week or more back. The Mormon butterfly is so beautiful & every spring we see it hovering over this plant when it flowers. Next spring I will be more vigilant :-)

  2. If you stroke it's back it will rear up! These usually go into the ground and form a pupa and emerge later as large moths

    1. I can't wait till next spring now, Audrey, to see it rear it's back :-D I am so relieved. This is a potted plant. So perhaps it has burrowed into the soil right under the plant? After 3 days of watering, I can't see any signs of burrowing, but will be on the lookout. Thank you so much for your response :-)

  3. I am fascinated with this little creature you have found, and everyone's comments too. I wonder if he is still there and you missed him and he is on a leaf looking like a leaf? In any case I will Google this little guy next💚🐛💚

    1. Carollyn, I checked the entire plant many times, from every angle and side (my new glasses help a lot ;-P). As Audrey suggested, it may have burrowed in the soil.
      I found this lovely article that explains beautifully with great pics -
      It may take 10-14 days for the butterfly to emerge - keeping fingers crossed :-D

  4. What an interesting story, I hope you find the butterfly when it visits you, you sure gave him a lot to eat during the day.. Pity your poor plant suffered hopefully it will grow more leaves

    1. I forgot to ask will you take a picture of the butterfly when it visits you in the spring

    2. Confession: I threw away 3 3rd stage instars to prevent them eating away the leaves (we use these in South Indian dishes), Margaret. This one survived & I didn't have the heart to throw it away, come what may.
      I'm hoping to see this one emerge as a butterfly and take a few pics. Getting pics of flitting butterflies is very difficult. But I must say those black beauties are spectacular and visit every spring & usually lay eggs.

  5. Its lovely tiny entrant in your garden. Wish you can click pics of a beautiful butterfly.