Monday, February 23, 2009

Eating Crow ... or maybe not !

Be honest... would you like to see this barrelling towards you at full tilt on a lonely road?
It looked menacing, waving two pointy tentacles at me (loaded with poison, I'm sure! ). There were even more tentacles, all tightly rolled up . A mask that Batman would've loved, slashed across its face and it just kept marching full speed at me.

Didnt it know fear? After all, I'm about a zillion times its size and could squish it to a very messy pulp. Aaah... but there were those tentacles .... extra-long, pointy and bright red at the tip. Just like the poison arrows of all those Amazonian tribes that I've seen in every encyclopaedia in the library !

But on second thoughts, maybe it does look a bit comical. Like a little ol' lady in a frilly, scalloped skirt and with her hair up in curlers. And don't miss those clogs that she's clumping around in!
She just kept going round and round the same pot. Maybe she had lost her way and didn't want to admit it.
But I've got to admit that her tentacles still have me worried!

After a lot of research (thanks Wiki!) I found that I was absolutely right to be worried about her. Or rather, I should have been if I were a bird or other predator.
Apparently this caterpillar of the Common Crow butterfly prefers munching on plants like Nerium oleander, Ficus and others with poisonous latex in them. These toxins are stored in its body and later, even in its adult stage, the toxins make it totally inedible and persona non grata among the predators.
Clever! They're more or less the butterfly equivalent of the infamous Vish-kanyas!

Who are Vish-kanyas? They are literally the 'Poison-girls' (vish = poison, kanya = girl). Indian legends go into graphic detail about girls (almost always beautiful and seductive ... obviously!) who were fed small doses of poison every day until a mere touch or kiss from them was enough to kill.
Stories abound of Chanakya, the very clever and shrewd prime minister (he could've taught Machiavelli a thing or two!) of King Chandragupta, who used these Vish-kanyas to get rid of their enemies.
On the internet I even found a claim that Chandragupta had sent some of these seductive Vish-kanyas to Alexander the Great when he invaded India. Whether it was to aid him or to kill him was not clear.
Then again, I found it on the Net so I'm not too sure ... maybe a cupful of salt is called for here, unless some of my more knowledgeable readers can tell me different?

But coming back to the Common Crow butterfly, it is so confident about its immunity from attack that it has a very slow, lazy flight. Which makes it one of the most easily photographed butterflies in my garden.

Just one thing bewilders me ... what on earth made them call this butterfly a Crow ? Can you see any resemblance at all to the bird in the photo below?


  1. nice & informative post. luved the way u hoped from a caterpillar tendon all the way to a crow :)

  2. A student at school would so much enjoy learning about nature from you, Sunita :)
    I certainly loved reading about the crow butterfly, from caterpillar to adult form, written in your charming, witty way.
    And your photos are a lovely bonus.
    Your common crow is quite different than ours, which is pure black and much bigger. Not as cute :)
    Happy Monday to you!

  3. Sunita that caterpillar's habits reminds me of the monarch caterpillar. It also eats a poisonous plant to protect it from predators. Nature has a great way of protecting its own. Interesting posts. Do you get Monarchs in India?

  4. Maybe the dark dusky color resembles a crow. That caterpillar is really something!

  5. Hi again, Sandeep. Hmmm, yes... subject hopping is becoming kind of a habit with me, isnt it? But if you didnt mind, then I'll think about it next time! ;D

    What an absolutely sweet thing to say, Kerri. Thank you so much!
    I think your crows must be more like our Jungle Crows. They're much bigger than the House Crow shown in the last photo . And they're pure black too. (And much more uncouth ... they pull out all my plants from their pots, searching for bugs I suppose).

    Islandgal, I think the Monarchs look very similar to our Striped Tigers and Common Tigers. As far as I know they're not the same though. Take a look, I've posted photos of the Striped Tiger in my August 31, 2008 post titled "I've got tigers in my garden!"

    Tina, I think that must be it. I cant think of any other reason, can you?

  6. I thought the same as Tina did. May be its not so attractive, dull color earned the name? Very interesting information and beautifully written, Sunita. Great post!

  7. That was an interesting and intelligent analogy between the crow-butterfly and vishkanyas.
    It seems that all beautiful things come with a catch!

  8. What an interesting looking caterpillar. Glad that you steered clear of his poison! And thanks for all the info on growing my anthurium. As I went to water all my plants today, I passed him by and let his soil dry out a bit.

  9. What a good read Sunita. That catepillar is funky looking. But the butterfly is lovely, nice and sleek, no frills. Now the crow, well, they're just pains.

  10. Chandramouli, its either that or or its cunning nature, I think. Or, whoever named it was having a terrible sinus / migraine / whatever and didnt want to exercise his brain more than necessary!

    GreenThumb, didnt the image click for you too? The minute i read about its latex eating habit to drive off predators, I immediately thought of the vish-kanyas. Talk about deadly beauties !

    Barbee! Its so great to see you here again. Glad you liked this post :)

    Msrobin, I dont think it was dangerous to me (well, unless I tried to eat it ... blech!). It just looked very, very scary.
    Glad you found the anthurium info useful. If you need more help with them, mail me. I grow a lot of them so I think I've covered all the problems they can possibly come up with!

    Ditto everything you said, Gardeness ! I thought the caterpillar had a bit of a rock chick look to it. :D

  11. Sunita, I am very eager to see your snap...wonder what you look like... now I know you love history too... spooky...spooky...spooky....this is going beyond the bollywood separated at birth drama... this is matrix material.
    As for that caterpillar ... cross roads with him ... if I was a edible sixe for him ... hll is the word...

  12. What interesting and fun facts! Thank you for helping me learn something new today! I'd have to say that the black wings have to be the reason why it got its name.

    I have to admit that the caterpillar looks quite comical to me. It looks like if it was larger, it would be a ride at Disneyland.


  13. Rajee, I know what you mean. All those similarities are way too eerie ? Or is it a case of some very friendly planets lining up perfectly ... or whatever? I'm not complaining!
    Forget the snap, have you forgotten you've volunteered to help me brew my cashew-apple wine? You cant do that long-distance!

  14. O.K OOOps I don't know what word I was writing out there taking about facing the caterpillar creature ... never mind... but have to say today while walking my 4 yr. old labrador(my older girl) and my lil girl ... I saw your Vishkanya ...yep that's what popped in my head rather than 'CCB'... ;) ... and yes will assist... in the sin of wine making...

  15. Hi Cindy! That picture of someone riding on something looking like this scary caterpillar was enough to make me burst out laughing ! The people at Disneyland dont know what they're missing, do they? ;D

  16. Rajee, make sure your Lab doesnt take a fancy to Ms. Poison ! Even if she does, I'm sure she'll soon spit her out, I suppose. These butterflies are all over the place now. Either there's a population boom or or I'm becoming more aware of the butterflies.

  17. Hi Sunita
    What a great post and your pictures are absolutely beautiful. The close-up photos are truly amazing - every single one!! I'll be back often to check out your posts. I'm definitely a fan.

  18. Hi Iona! I'm so glad you liked it. I've got more of the macros waiting for another post sometime in the future. Make sure you keep checking back, okay? Its nice to hear from fellow garden bloggers :)

  19. Sunita, I thought I had posted a comment , but apparently I did not. So I repeat
    'Like a little ol' lady in a frilly, scalloped skirt and with her hair up in curlers. And don't miss those clogs that she's clumping around in!'

    What a lovely description - lighthearted and accurate.
    Thanks for an interesting post.

  20. Hi Raji! Glad you liked this post and the 'old lady' :)

  21. Thanks, Sekhar. Keep checking in, okay ? I hope I can get some more interesting photos.

  22. A lovely unfolding, from caterpillar to butterfly. You have a gift for suspense. And poison girls? I've heard of poison gloves (Catherine de Medici), but this is a new one.

  23. Hi Marta! Glad you liked my butterfly and her caterpillar! :)
    Catherine de Medici... now there was one very interesting lady! I'm sure that if she had heard about our vish-kanyas, she would've had a whole army of them working for her. But then again, maybe just one would've been more than enough.
    Poison cloaks, poison girls ... you can find it all in Indian history and myth :)

  24. Hi Sunita, this is a fabulously brilliant post! I loved everything about it. It has all of the elements of a great mystery, including historical facts and beauty of butterflies. Even the caterpillar is unique and quite lovely. I do love caterpillars, except the green horned ones that eat my tomato plants. I had never hear of the poison girls and think someone had a pretty mean streak to think up such an idea! Maybe the butterfly is called a crow because of its dark color? I have a tree peony that is called early crow that is a dark red.

  25. Hey, thanks Frances! I think you've just given me the glimmerings of a mystery novel ... lady finds birds dying every day in her garden, she suspects poison at work and its definitely aimed at bumping her off, then to make matters worse her beautiful garden is mysteriously ravaged ...
    Think I have a best-seller here? Naaah ... I didnt think so either! ;)
    Mean streak? I think it was someone with a flair for the dramatic (and mean too, of course!)
    Yes, I think the general consensus is that the butterfly named after its colouring. But that sounds very mean too. Imagine being stuck with a name like that for all eternity just because you share the same colouring!
    Early crow is dark red? It seems to me that someone had a bad case of colour blindness. Poor flower!

  26. Loved your description of the caterpillar. Will be following your blog regularly to catch more of your insightful, lyrical way of watching the world around you. Thanks for dropping by my blog so I could find you!

  27. Thats wonderful, vbdb ! I'll look forward to seeing you here often now.
    Glad you liked 'my' caterpillar :)


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