Take a look at the image above – do you see anything different about it? Whilst it may seem like a totally normal leaf, there is actually a caterpillar in the center of the frame, blending in almost perfectly with its environment.
This is the common baron caterpillar (Euthalia aconthea), a critter native to India and Southeast Asia. Feeding on mangoes and cashew nuts in the foliage, the little larvae live a solitary life, hiding from predators as they slowly develop and eventually grow into nymphalid butterflies, which are unfortunately much less impressively camouflaged.
The common baron hatches from the underside of a leaf, which is the site in which the nymphalid butterfly lays its eggs. As the larvae grows in size, branch-like extensions grow from their sides to help them crawl on leaves almost entirely indetectable to birds above.
This camouflage increases the survival rate of these caterpillars, making it far more likely they will reach that crucial stage of metamorphosis, in which they develop into a butterfly and can reproduce.
This is not the first incredible display of camouflage from caterpillars. The great orange tip caterpillar (Hebomoia glaucippe, pictured below) gained fame for its ability to mimic the head of a green vine snake and scare off predators.
Some caterpillars take another, more deadly approach to self-defense. The giant silkworm caterpillar (below), for example, is covered in sharp bristles that any predator would soon regret touching. Containing a highly toxic venom, this caterpillar injects an anticoagulant substance through its hollow bristles, resulting in internal hemorrhaging and hemolysis. With one of the lowest known lethal doses of all known toxins, it is easily potent enough to result in the death of an adult human and is responsible for several deaths in South America every year.
Amazing forms of defense and camouflage are frequently discovered. Hopefully, more and more pictures like these will be taken to help demonstrate their fascinating evolutionary traits – it does require a keen eye though!