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Butterflies Enjoy Nature's Camoflauge

Illinois butterfly identification programs have been popular among prairie walkers and flower gardeners. It is these delightful visitors of flowers or tree sap or —in some cases, dung and mud puddles —that capture our interests and cause us to ask, "What kind of butterfly is that?" and "Where did it come from?

In my ventures to understand and identify butterflies, I have come to one very apparent conclusion: Butterflies have developed amazing adaptions to survive nature.

The red spotted purple caterpillar must defend itself from foraging ants in its early larval stage. It protects itself by building a frass stick in which it can perch on the edge of a leaf. The frass stick is built out of the two things it has most available —silk from the spinneret and frass (insect poop.) When the tiny caterpillar senses vibrations on the leaf or needs to take a break, it crawls to the end of the frass stick to rest.

Doug Tallamy, entomologist from University of Delaware and famed author of "Bringing Home Nature," says, "Apparently, ants would rather go hungry than walk out on a stick made of frass."

Lots of Illinois butterflies avoid detection by predators by blending in with the background. The very green clouded sulphur butterfly caterpillar feeds and hangs out on the middle vein of the leaf, going mostly unnoticed.

When the caterpillar gets bigger, it turns bright yellow to blend in with the flowering partridge pea. The chrysalis also can take on the yellowish hue.

The spicebush swallow tail is one of the best adapters of using camouflage to avoid detection. Early caterpillars look like bird poop and later-stage caterpillars look like small green snakes with large eye marks. The eye marks are on the abdomen, in case a bird tries to take a nibble. The chrysalis looks like an insignificant brown leaf and the adult butterfly mimics the poisonous pipevine swallowtail