Scientist/Artist Collaboration Points Out Resemblances
Between Butterflies and Caterpillars

In their December 2015 paper artist Darryl Wheye1 and scientist Paul R. Ehrlich2 describe caterpillar-like images on some butterfly wings. They show areas of the wing where the markings are most obvious and offer possible explanations for their presence.

The idea that predators learn to recognize caterpillars as potential prey or prey to be avoided and apply this information when approaching adults bearing similar markings (and vice versa) is appealing. If more potential resemblances can be identified, researchers will be in a better position to observe the behavior of more potential predators.

To bring their observation to a broad range of butterfly researchers and enthusiasts, the authors submitted their paper to the News of the Lepidopterist’s Society. Members of the organization reside in more than 60 countries, but most reside in the U.S. and Canada. The News provided an ideal noticeboard for establishing a citizen science program to encourage field observations, assessments of beak marks on wings in collections and submission of images to a photographic database.

The program's aim is to fill many gaps in the online butterfly and caterpillar pictorial record making it easier to survey similarities between adults and as many larval instars (stages of development) as possible. The authors write:
“Butterfly collectors and photographers, nature photographers, science artists, other naturalists and students around the world could dramatically expand the pictorial archive. They could compare larval and adult patterns in species they photograph in the field or find in online databases and submit image, foodplant and location information of promising examples to a central online “resemblance” database that is curated, maintained and linked to key organizations such as the North American Butterfly Association (NABA).”
Submit this form for information on the citizen science program or to submit images.

The authors are interested in encouraging partnerships between scientists and artists. This study shows why.

1Artist and CEO Science Art-Nature; 2Bing Professor of Population Studies emeritus, President, Center for Conservation Biology, Department of Biology, 371 Serra Mall Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305-5020
Image credit:
© 2015 Darryl Wheye: drawing with photographic overlay of modified "larval band".