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Butterflies of Africa
Plain Tiger
Danaus chrysippus LINNAEUS, 1758
Family - NYMPHALIDAE
subfamily - DANAINAE
Tribe - DANAINI

Danaus chrysippus male, form chrysippus Adrian Hoskins

Introduction
The subfamily Danainae comprises of 3 tribes: the neotropical Ithomiini, the Tellervini of Papua New Guinea, and the Danaini which have representatives worldwide. The Danaini includes the Monarchs & Tigers, Nymphs and Crows, comprises of about 190 species in total.
Monarchs and Tigers belong to the genus Danaus. They are large butterflies, characterised by their orange wings, which have a black apex and white subapical spots. On the males there is a patch of raised androconial ( pheromone emitting ) scales on the hindwings.
All butterflies in this subfamily are thought to be toxic or distasteful to avian predators. Their bodies contain toxins which are derived from the larval foodplants, and are often supplemented by further toxins derived from adult food sources.
The bright colours of the butterflies advertise their poisonous qualities to birds in the same way that the bands of yellow and black of wasps advertise the fact that they can sting. Any bird that suffers the unpleasant experience of tasting a Danaus is unlikely to attack any similarly coloured butterfly. This has led many other species to evolve adults which mimic chrysippus, and thus avoid predation. These mimics include other toxic species such as Acraea encedana, and also a smaller number of palatable insects such as Hypolimnas misippus.
Danaus chrysippus is found across the entire African continent, throughout most of Asia south of the Himalayas, on most of the islands of the south Pacific, and across much of Australia.
In Africa the hindwings of Danaus chrysippus are usually predominantly white, a form known as alcippus. The type form chrysippus is scarce in West Africa but forms between 10-50% of most East African populations.
Danaus chrysippus form alcippus, Bobiri, Ghana Peter Bygate
Habitats
This species occurs in many habitats ranging from deserts to savannah grasslands, dry deciduous woodlands, humid sub-tropical forests, gardens, parks and cities at altitudes between sea level and about 1500m.
Lifecycle
The larval foodplants include most genera of Periplocaceae and Asclepiadaceae. Some species of these plants contain cardenolides ( heart depressants ) which are sequestered by the larvae and passed on to the adult butterflies. Other species used by the larvae however do not contain these cardenolides, consequently some adults are inherently toxic, while others are harmless and edible. In fact about 80% of adults are non-toxic at the time of emergence. During their lifetimes however all adults obtain pyrrolizidine alkaloids and other toxins which they sequester from various plants.
The caterpillars of chrysippus are attacked by the host-specific parasitoid wasp Apanteles chrysippi which accounts for about 85% of larval mortality.
Adult behaviour

The butterflies are usually encountered singly or in two's and three's. They have a slow undulating flight, with fairly shallow wing beats.

Both sexes patrol flowery areas, alighting periodically to take nectar, or to imbibe pyrrolizidine alkaloids from the leaves and stems.

In overcast weather, and when roosting overnight, the butterflies hang suspended from grass stems or dry twigs, often in clusters of up to half a dozen individuals.

 

 

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