Snakes are amongst the most feared animals in the world. The sight of the slithering reptiles can send even the bravest human or animal scampering for safety. One clever butterfly species has figured out how to capitalize on this universal terror by transforming its pupa to resemble the world's most venomous snake!
Native to Trinidad, an island off the coast of Venezuela, the Dynastor darius darius butterfly is one of several species of the Dynastor genus. Though butterflies of this family can be found throughout Mexico as well as South and Central America, the Dynastor darius darius is the only species to display this impressive ability.
The butterfly's ingenious disguise begins as a caterpillar. Its long green body and reddish-black head covered with tiny protruding hair enables it to remain perfectly camouflaged on the ground among the fallen leaves. However, it is what happens when the caterpillar enters the pupal stage that has impressed even the most jaded naturalists. As the insect chrysalis, it develops scales and dark yellow eyes that eerily resemble the Gaboon pit viper. The pupa maintains this masquerade for the full 13 days it takes to transform into a butterfly.
If that is not enough to impress you how about this? Unlike any other butterfly pupa, the Dynastor darius darius can sense movement through its hardened protein shell. When a predator gets too close for comfort, the pupa starts to shake violently, scaring even the bravest of them away.
What's even more fascinating is that the Gaboon viper, the largest and most venomous member of its family is not native to Trinidad. It can be found only in the rainforests and savannas of Sub-Saharan Africa. How this crafty butterfly managed to adopt the snake's persona without ever setting eyes on it, remains a mystery.
Interestingly, researchers who uncovered the butterfly's tricks in the early 1990's found that the life of an adult Dynastor darius darius is not as exciting. They never once observed the brown nondescript butterfly feeding. This led them to conclude that it probably died once its fat reserves were depleted - Unless of course, it has figured out another smart mimicry to fool the scientists!
Resources: nerdist.com, zmescience.com,discovery.com