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Wednesday, April 12, 2006


Peacock butterfly

* Japanese name: Kujaku-cho
* Scientific name: Inachis io geisha
* Description: Instantly recognizable, with its chocolate-brown body, striking red wings and eye spots, the peacock is in the Nymphalid family of butterflies. In members of this family, the front pair of legs are reduced and useless for walking, while their antennae have clearly visible "clubs" on the end. The subspecies found in Japan, with a wingspan of 54-60 mm, is named "geisha" for its beautiful cosmetic coloring . The caterpillars are black with white dots on each segment and six rows of barbed, protective spikes.
* Where to find them: The peacock is fairly common in open fields, on farms and in woods and gardens. It is found from sea level up to about 2,500 meters; indeed, wherever flowers grow. Only one brood of eggs is laid each year, and the adults hibernate over winter. They are one of the first butterflies to appear each year, around March to April.
* Food: Females lay their eggs on nettles in batches of about 500; caterpillars hatch about a week later and eat the host nettle they hatch on. Adults take nectar from thistles, buddleia and dandelions, but also feed on tree sap and drink from rotten fruit.
* Special features: The insect is named, in English and Japanese, after the bird which also has beautiful eyespots. But while the bird's eyespots are a result of sexual selection (females are drab, and choose males with the prettiest, most symmetrical, brightest eyespots in their tail feathers), in peacock butterflies the eye spots perform a function that is favored by natural selection: protection from predators. Male and female peacock butterflies have the same eyespot patterns, although the females' tend to be slightly larger than the males'. At first glance, the eyes look very feline, and birds will of course hesitate to attack something that reminds them of a cat. Nevertheless, peacock butterflies are flighty insects, and if you see the mottled tortoiseshell on the underwing of the animal, you can be sure that it is about to take to the air.


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