On that Sunday afternoon, weather was very hot and sultry. Pre-monsoon clouds were gathering on the horizon. The place I was trying to photograph was windy and deserted. I was lugging my heavy rig consisting of Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM + Canon EF 2X II Extender mounted on my Canon EOS 5D Mark III body. If you have read my earlier blog you will notice that I use this rig for both bird photography as well as macro photo. I was carrying it using my trusted Benro C45T Carbon Fiber Monopod for support. Today I wanted to try 300mm with 2X convertor as I found 300 and 1.4x was a little too short for birds on full frame camera like 5D Mark III. I was not sure of the quality it will render as 2X magnification supposed to deteriorate the sharpness of any prime it is put on. Even though 300mm f/2.8 was razor sharp I was not sure how it will fare when converted to effective focal Length of 600 mm at f/5.6 using the 2X converter.
Unfortunately I could not find any birds that day. All seems to be hiding in shade from the blistering heat. After a long search I spotted a Plain Tiger butterfly (Danais chrysippus) basking on a dry shrub. Lighting was not optimal. I had bright sun sharp and high up in the sky. The folded wings of the butterfly look better if they were nicely side-lit. Unfortunately I was not carrying my flash along with me with which I could illuminate it. I searched for a bright object that could throw some light on the butterfly. I found a piece of old news paper in the nearby garbage bin and used it as a reflector to get as much light as possible on the body of the butterfly. As you can see the results of 300mm f/2.8 are really sharp even after using 2.0x tele-convertor. All these photos are slightly cropped so as to eliminate the surrounding shrubs. I used f/8 aperture as that was the sharpest aperture I found using this combo.
The Plain Tiger (Danais chrysippus) is a medium sized butterfly with a wingspan of about 7–8 cm. The body is black with many white spots. The wings are tawny the upper side being brighter and richer than the underside. The apical half of the fore wing is black with a white band. The hind wing has 3 black spots around the center. The hind wing has a thin border of black enclosing a series of semicircular white spots. Background color and extent of white on the forewings varies somewhat across the wide range. The male Plain Tiger is smaller than the female, but more brightly colored. Male Plain Tiger has a pouch on the hindwing. This spot is white with a thick black border and bulges slightly. It is a cluster of specialized scent scales used to attract females. They also possess two brush-like organs which can be pushed out of the tip of the abdomen.
The range of the Plain Tiger extends from Africa and southern Europe, eastwards via Sri Lanka, India, and Myanmar to China and Sulawesi. It is a very common species. This butterfly is perhaps the commonest of Indian butterflies and is a familiar sight to practically everyone on the subcontinent. It flies from dawn to dusk, frequenting gardens, sipping from flowers and, late in the day, fluttering low over bushes to find a resting place for the night. As usual for diurnal butterflies, this species rests with its wings closed. When basking it sits close to the ground and spreads its wings with its back to the sun so that the wings are fully exposed to the sun’s rays.
The Plain Tiger is protected from attacks due to the unpalatable alkaloids ingested during the larval stages. The butterfly therefore flies slowly and leisurely, generally close to the ground and in a straight line. This gives a would-be predator ample time to recognize and avoid attacking it. Inexperienced predators will try attacking it, but will learn soon enough to avoid this butterfly as the alkaloids in its body cause vomiting. The butterfly also has a tough, leathery skin to survive such occasional attacks. When attacked it fakes death and oozes nauseating liquid which makes it smell and taste terrible. This encourages the predator to release the butterfly quickly. The Plain Tiger thus has the ability to recover “miraculously” from predator attacks that would kill most other butterflies.
The protection mechanisms of the Plain Tiger, as of the other danaines, and indeed of all colorful unpalatable butterflies, result in predators learning this memorable aspect at first hand. Predators soon associate the patterns and habits of such butterfly species with unpalatability to avoid hunting them in future. This advantage of protection has led to a number of edible butterfly species, referred to as “mimics”, evolving to resemble inedible butterflies, which are referred to as the “model”. The resemblance is not only in color, shapes, and markings, but also in behavioral and flight patterns. This form of mimicry – where an edible species mimics an inedible species – is known as Batesian mimicry.
The mimics can resemble the models very closely. The Plain Tiger is specifically mimicked by the following butterflies:
- Indian Fritillary (Argyreus hyperbius) females
- Danaid Eggfly (Hypolimnas misippus forma inaria) females.
- Leopard Lacewing (Cethosia cyane) males and females
- Indian Tamil Lacewing (Cethosia nietneri mahratta) males and females
- Common Palmfly (Elymnias hypermnestra) females