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Killer Caterpillars



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An Enemy Transformed
Photograph by Darlyne A. Murawski

While green tree ants wander and probe, a Liphyra brassolis caterpillar grows larger by shedding a layer of old, whitish skin. Beneath its protective orange carapace, the head of the newly molted caterpillar peeks out, revealing tiny antennae-like structures—an anatomical mystery so far found only on certain caterpillars that inhabit ant nests. A protected butterfly species in Australia, the Liphyra brassolis is something of a brute: It can devour the entire brood of a green tree ant nest, impervious to attack because of its tough outer hide. But once the caterpillar transforms into a butterfly inside the nest, its soft body is vulnerable to assault by the green tree ants, which can swarm and dismember intruders. To escape this fate, the butterfly quickly moves toward an exit, shedding white scales from its new wings as it goes. Those scales stick to the ants, disorienting and distracting them.

Photo Fast Facts

Camera: Olympus OM4 Ti
Film Type: Fujichrome Provia 100 slide film
Lens: 38mm macro
Speed and F-Stop: 1/60 @ high f-stop

Weather Conditions: Hot and Humid
Time of Day: Morning
Lighting Techniques: 3 light sources, diffusers



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