Death blooms - A jezebel meets its end
Published in - Sanctuary Asia, Vol. XIX, No. 5, October, 1999

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Nature is full of surprises. I was trying to photograph this strikingly-coloured Common Jezebel butterfly Delias eucharis in the blooms of a Lantana camara plant in late October 1998. For quite a while it gave me the run around as it flitted just out of reach of my lens. I knew, however, that it was an unpalatable species, a ‘poison eater’, which at the larval stage absorbs toxins from Dendrophthoe plants. It pretends to be dead when seriously threatened. I hoped to get a good shot when this behaviour manifested itself. My patience paid off when it perched on some lantana flowers. This time, to my delight it stayed put, undeterred by my presence. Sensing that I might be able to take an extreme close up I attached a macro lens to my camera and when I was just about 15 cm. from the insect I discovered the macabre truth.

This was no pretence, but the last finale for one of nature’s great survivors. The abnormally bold behaviour was prompted not by any escape strategy, but by paralysis. A superbly camouflaged crab spider (Order: Araneae, Class: Arachnida, Phylum: Arthropoda) had injected the butterfly with powerful venom, which was in the process of converting the insect’s soft body tissues into a liquid soup that the spider would be able to suck out through its hollow fangs. If you look closely at the image you will see why the crab spider, which builds no snares, is so named. Its body is flat and its legs are designed in such a way as to enable it to move sideways. The butterfly did not really suffer any long ordeal for the whole affair was over within seconds.

Camera: Nikon F50; Lens: 35-80mm Nikkor Macro Lens with Close-up (2+) Diopter; Film: Sensia 100 ASA (Fujichrome; Aperture: F22; Shutter speed: 1/125; Light source: Built-in flash