(Danaus chrysippus).Outside of Asia, the insect is also known as the African
Monarch.It is a medium-size butterfly characterized by bright orange wings with six
black spots and alternating black-and-white stripes.
Its striking looks have been noted for millennia by scientists and artists.The writer
Vladimir Nabokov—who was also a noted lepidopterist—had admiring words for
the butterfly in an otherwise scathing New York Times book review of Alice Ford’s
Audubon’s Butterflies, Moths, and Other Studies (The Studio Publications).In the
book, Ford labels drawings made previous to and during Audubon’s time in the 19th
century as “scientifi-cally [sic] unsophisticated.”
In response to Ford, Nabokov writes, “The unsophistication is all her own.She
might have looked up John Abbot’s prodigious representations of North American
lepidoptera, 1797, or the splendid plates of 18th- and early-19th-century German
lepidopterists.She might have traveled back some 33 centuries to the times of Tuthmosis
IV or Amenophis III and, instead of the obvious scarab, found there frescoes
with a marvelous Egyptian butterfly (subtly combining the pattern of our Painted
Lady and the body of an African ally of the Monarch).”
While the Plain Tiger’s beauty is part of its charm, its looks can also be deadly.
During its larval stages, the butterfly ingests alkaloids that are poisonous to birds—
its main predator—which are often attracted to the insect’s markings.After ingesting
the Plain Tiger, a bird will vomit repeatedly—occasionally fatally.If the bird lives, it
will let other birds know to avoid the insect, which can also be recognized by its
leisurely, meandering pattern of flying low to the earth.