With the onset of winter in north India we have breakfast and lunch in our garden. The advantage of this is being able to watch little things in nature unfold in front of my own eyes. In the last two weeks or so, right next to the place that we have our al fresco meals, an interesting story was being told.
About two weeks ago I noticed a small caterpillar crawl along the ground. I knew the caterpillar was that of a butterfly called the Plain Tiger (Danaus chrysippus) as I had often seen the adult butterfly flitting about near its larval food plant. The larval food plant of butterflies (and this is true for all insects) is some specific species of plant that the butterfly’s caterpillars can feed on. Most insects have a few select plant species on which they lay their eggs; they cannot lay their eggs on any plant.
As I watched the caterpillar, it wandered about restlessly and eventually made its way to a plant nearby, about 10 feet or so away from its larval food plant. Climbing up this plant, the caterpillar attached one end of its body to a horizontal stem with threads of silk. Slowly the caterpillar curled itself up; I knew that it was going to change into a chrysalis. As this was going to take some time, I noted the spot where the caterpillar was and continued my observations over the next few days.
The next morning at breakfast, I once again observed the caterpillar. It had now turned into a chrysalis! The chrysalis was a lovely green and spotted with gold. A black horizontal line on the chrysalis completed its make up. A few days later I once again looked for ‘my’ chrysalis (I had now adopted the chrysalis as I had spotted it). I could not spot it and was alarmed. Had the chrysalis been hurt? I had to look more closely. Nestled amongst the leaves the green chrysalis was well camouflaged, which is why I had missed it at first glance! I heaved a sigh of relief. At this stage of its life cycle, the chrysalis is vulnerable. It cannot move or protect itself, so its best defence is to stay hidden.
Over the next two weeks, I watched the chrysalis every morning. At first there was no visible change. However, slowly the chrysalis began to change its colours. This morning the chrysalis turned into a lovely golden brown. Even though I could not peek into it, I knew that monumental changes would be taking place. Soon, it will be time for the adult butterfly to emerge and fly, fly away!