Sex, Lies and Deception

Life is strange! In nature in order to survive a species must breed and in order to breed a species must survive! What I find fascinating, as a naturalist, is the endless designs that nature has evolved to solve this conundrum.

Southern Red Bishops are small birds that provide a great local example. They are common, nest communally and don’t appear to be remarkably agile in flight. Easy pickings for a Sparrowhawk, or maybe not .

In order to survive they are incredibly non- descript  and camouflaged.  The difficulty is, being territorial, the males need, at certain times of the year, to see each other and need to be seen by the females. The solution is a quick and timely moult of all that drabness into breeding splendour. The change is quite remarkable and has to be timed perfectly. If they change to early they risk being eaten before mating and if they change back out of the plumage to late they risk not making it to the following breeding season. Survival sits on a very thin line indeed!

Along the Garden Route we have magnificent forests and within these forests are some magnificent trees. White Ironwood (Vepris species) Cape Chestnuts (Calodendrum species) Perdepis (Clausena species) and Knobwoods (Zanthoxylum species) all belong to the Rutaceae  family known to us all from the domestic  citrus trees. This time of the year all of these are being happily munched by the arch survivalists, the insects and by one in particular.

An "Orange Dog" caterpillar

An "Orange Dog" caterpillar

The larva  of the Citrus Swallowtail butterfly has taken the art of deception to a higher level. Referred to as “Orange Dogs” these caterpillars have evolved the strategy of looking just like a bird’s dropping’s, stunning in its simplicity and very effective .

They have solved the survival balance of finding a partner in a more intricate manner , it involves the changing of the physical structure to facilitate the changing needs. Having survived being viewed as a slow moving  tasty morsel they undergo a stunning metamorphosis from a ”  bird dropping ”  to a  fast moving,  highly visible , regal Adult Citrus Swallowtail butterfly.

Swallowtail Butterfly

Isn’t nature incredible!

Tags: Birding, Flora, Fauna