The lemon tree

You must’ve heard the German musical band, Fool’s Garden,  singing

I wonder how
I wonder why
Yesterday you told me ’bout the blue, blue sky
And all that I can see is just a yellow lemon tree
I’m turning my head up and down
I’m turning, turning, turning, turning, turning around
And all that I can see is just another lemon tree

I don’t see any lemon tree in the song’s visuals! I wonder how anything could be boring, especially when one can see a lemon tree. One such lemon tree is next to the staircase leading to the reception at River Tern Lodge. Vijay, one of the naturalists at the property had told us about the treasure he had discovered on it. Usually one would expect to find treasure buried beneath trees, but some kinds of treasure are found on trees.

Blue Mormon caterpillar

“Where did it go?” What? Did we lose the treasure before finding it? “Ah, there it is”, he said with a deep sigh. The green gold had crawled away to a different leaf. The caterpillar of the Blue Mormon (Papilio polymnestor) butterfly was big, green and with a different gait. Apparently, it has this halting walk because it stops to weave silk on whatever it moves on to have a good, strong hold on the surface. This one’s quite similar to the caterpillars of Common Mormon and Malabar Banded Swallowtail, its greenish head being a key differentiator.

BlueMormonInstar2

Before we could thank him for discovering this beauty, he said “there’s more!”. Did he just wave his hand like a magician? For, caterpillars of all sizes and colors, suddenly came into view. We had glued our eyes onto one green gold, but there was more! In school, we learn about the four stages of a butterfly’s life cycle. But in the larval or caterpillar stage itself, it transforms many times, each form being known as an instar

BlueMormonBirdDropping

Bird poop mimic

Another instar was nicely bathed in olive-green. Now, a skillful make-up artist can dramatically change the appearance to disguise anyone – and I mean a real disguise, not the kind where adding a moustache is supposed to fool onlookers and viewers. These caterpillars seem to ‘hire’ such make-up artists to add a dash of whitish patch here and there, to make them look like bird poop. Their disguise (mimicry) is near-perfect, because the shine adds a feeling of freshness to the poop 😉 This gives them ample safety from their predators, at least from the kind that doesn’t feast on poop.

By then, a group had gathered behind us, in true Indian style – always hungry forBlueMormonPupa what someone else is doing. But I am glad that hunger existed, because everyone in the group was excitedly looking for a caterpillar here, a spider beneath the leaves, listening to the ‘tik-tik-tik’ sound in the distance or some hiccup-like sound near the gate. Vijay got us to focus on another stage, the pupa, hanging delicately.

BlueMormonLarvaInstar1Lokesh had also joined us. He is one of the folks who takes people on boat safaris and never fails to amaze us with his skills of spotting *and* identifying wildlife from a great distance. He was frantically asking for some torchlight, for he had found eggs, which were later identified to be those of a different butterfly. We also saw the adults, two males and a female, in the next couple of days.

We had seen the large and stunningly beautiful Blue Mormon in various stages of its life. And most of the stages were on the lemon tree. The “stationary” lemon tree was full of life and had attracted a decent sized crowd. There were people who had just finished a safari, heading to grab a cup of tea, but had joined the lemon tree group. But nobody spoke about large-sized mammals, nobody remembered the tea. The lemon tree was silently glowing, because of the enlightenment it was giving to the hungry folks in front of it – hungry to learn about the stories it had to share.

BlueMormonAdults

Rana

p.s: This post has also been published as a story on JLR Explore.

You can also read a similar experience we had with the Common Mime in the same campus.

References:

  • India, a Lifescape: Butterflies of Peninsular India – by Krushnamegh Kunte
  • Wiki
  • I found butterflies (Saji, K., H. Ogale, R. Lovalekar, R. Das & T. Bhagwat. 2014. Papilio polymnestor Cramer, 1775 – Blue Mormon. In K. Kunte, S. Kalesh & U. Kodandaramaiah (eds.). Butterflies of India, v. 2.00. Indian Foundation for Butterflies)
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4 Comments

  1. Prem Kumar said,

    April 23, 2014 at 8:23 am

    Excellent !:-)

  2. Anu said,

    April 24, 2014 at 5:59 pm

    excellent post ! iw ant to ask you guys which camera and lens do you guys use ?

  3. belurs said,

    April 25, 2014 at 5:25 am

    Thank you Anu 🙂 We use Canon DSLRs and a variety of Canon lenses.


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