Camouflage and Disguise
at rest on
green foliage ©
Butterflies use many means to hide themselves from
predators. Sometimes, as with the
metalmarks ( Riodinidae ), they
simply hide under leaves, out of sight. Most other species rest in
more open situations though, and conceal themselves using techniques
such as camouflage, disguise, disruptive coloration or transparency.
The boundary between
camouflage and disguise is hard to define, but
is generally considered to describe something with a colour, pattern
and texture that enables it to blend well against a natural
background or substrate. Butterflies rest on many different
substrates including foliage, soil, rocks and tree trunks - and
various species possess colours and patterns which match each of these
Disguise on the other
hand describes a butterfly or moth that has a similar appearance
to another natural object, such as a leaf or flower. Moths
often have very effective disguises - some which rest on tree trunks
resemble bits of lichen, others resemble bits of broken twig. The
caterpillars of many Geometrid moths look exactly like twigs, and even
have small projecting false "thorns".
Amongst British butterflies the Orange tip
is a good
example, difficult to spot when at rest on the white flowers of garlic
camouflaged at rest on garlic mustard flowers ©
is a superb example of disguise, being coloured and shaped like a
living leaf, complete with raised "veins".
disguised as a leaf ©
the tropics there are many species which are disguised as dead brown
leaves - examples include the Leaf butterfly
Kallima inachus from India, and the
Memphis and Marpesia Leafwing
butterflies of South America.
Peruvian species convincingly disguised as a dead leaf ©
This term is used to
describe the way in which a butterfly or moth's appearance is visually
broken up, usually by means of mottling and / or prominent lines.
The Angle Shades moth
Phlogophora meticulosa is a good example
- it is equally well concealed when settled amongst dead vegetation or
particularly birds, use a "search image" to locate resting moths. They
look out for a "moth shaped" object, but the disruptive pattern of the
Angle Shades breaks up it's outline and foils the bird's search image.
Shades moth Phlogophora meticulosa,
Hampshire, England ©
a skipper from Peru. The disruptive
patterning makes it very difficult to detect amongst the dry
grasslands of it's habitat in the Andes ©
Hipparchia semele, perfectly disguised
at rest on dead wood ©
The colours of butterflies are
produced either by pigments in the wing-scales, or structurally by
light refracting on prism-like ridges on the surface of the scales.
Some species however are very thinly scaled or lack wing scales
almost entirely, revealing the transparent membrane of the wings.
which use transparency to conceal themselves include Ithomiine
Glasswings and certain neotropical Satyrines such as
Cithaerias pireta and
Dulcedo polita. There are also
representatives from other families, e.g.
Chorinea ( Riodinidae ) and Lamproptera
( Papilionidae ).
Cithaerias pireta aurora, Cocha Camunga, Rio Madre de Dios,
structure of a transparent Satyrine butterfly
Haetera piera © Tony