I used Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM with 36mm of extension tube to shoot this Plain Tiger butterfly only very cloudy evening.
The Plain Tiger 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. In addition, male danaines have a number of secondary sexual characteristics. In the case of the Plain Tiger, these are:
- The male has a pouch on the hindwing. This spot is white with a thick black border and bulges slightly. It is a cluster of specialised scent scales used to attract females.
- The males 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.
Despite the external similarity, the Common Tiger is not closely related to this species.
It is found in every kind of country including the desert (pending availability of food) and right up into the mountains till 9000 feet. Primarily a butterfly of open country and gardens. Unlike the Common Tiger, a related species, is least common in damp, forested, hilly regions. It is a somewhat migratory 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 recognise and avoid attacking it. Inexperienced predators will try attacking it, but will learn soon enough to avoid this butterfly as the alkoloids 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 behavioural 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. In some cases, it requires examination in hand and reference to field guides to tell them apart. The Plain Tiger is specifically mimicked by the following butterflies:
- Indian Fritillary (Argyreus hyperbius) females
- Danaid Eggfly (Hypolimnas misippus forma inaria females.
The following butterflies have a general resemblance common to both the Plain Tiger and the Common Tiger:
- Leopard Lacewing (Cethosia cyane) males and females
- Indian Tamil Lacewing (Cethosia nietneri mahratta) males and females
- Common Palmfly (Elymnias hypermnestra) females
The similarity between the Plain and Common Tigers makes them Müllerian mimics, as the adverse experience a predator makes with either species will also protect the other.