An Atala butterfly begins to emerge from its chrysalis attached to a leaf of the Coontie plant. The Coontie plant is all things to the Atala. A place to lay its eggs, a grocery store for the caterpillars to consume its leaves, a quiet place to form a chrysalis to carry out metamorphosis. Then a place to return to later in life to lay eggs to start the process all over again.
The Atala caterpillar warns potential predators of its toxicity by its garish red and yellow coloration. The Coontie plant, the Atala’s larval host plant, is toxic but the Atala thrives on its leaves and uses its deadly attributes to its own advantage for survival.
Newly emerged from the chrysalis hanging next to it, a fat red-and-yellow caterpillar has undergone metamorphosis to turn into this Atala butterfly colorful in its own right. The bright red on the wings and the orange abdomen are warnings to would-be predators that they may find the Atala a bit unpalatable due to the toxins it has incorporated into its body from its larval host plant, the prehistoric Coontie.
A blood red Atala butterfly caterpillar consumes the Coontie host plant that it needs to eat to survive at this young age. The caterpillar takes up the Coontie’s natural toxins and the brilliant red and yellow coloration is a warning that eating the youngster could be dangerous to would-be predators. The adult Atala butterfly’s coloration is also a warning that it might be toxic to predators. As seen in the Audubon House landscaping at the Oslo Riverfront Conservation Area. UPDATE: […]