As a nature photographer, I always keep a close eye on the wildlife in my backyard when the seasons change. Once the monsoon rains started bucketing down, the mango trees in my backyard started hosting a very delicate lifeform: the eggs of a Common Baron Butterfly (Euthalia aconthea). The tiny water-drop-like eggs hatch into hungry little caterpillars, and they start to eat everything in their vicinity. Once in their larva form, they moult multiple times and become longer and plumper. It then becomes quite difficult to spot them, as they sort of melt into the backdrop and become one with the mango leaf that they call home. With a yellowish-white spine and a bristled appearance, the caterpillar is quite attractive. But against a mango leaf, it is almost impossible to tell them apart, their spine lining up with the midrib of the leaf and their feather-like bristles almost invisible against the green. After all, all a caterpillar wants is to eat and not be eaten!

     Common Baron Butterfly Egg
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Common Baron butterfly (Euthalia aconthea) is one of the most common butterfly species found in the Indian subcontinent. In this picture, you can see the tiny egg of a Common Baron, on a mango leaf.
Common Baron butterfly caterpillar camouflage
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Common Baron butterfly caterpillars are camouflage experts like no other! They quite literally become one with the leaf.
Common Baron Butterfly caterpillars on a mango leaf
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The caterpillars become active at night, which is when they feast on the mango leaves.

Mostly, the caterpillars were busy in the nighttime, which was when they feasted upon the mango leaves. For me, it became a daily routine, observing them and trying to capture them on camera. Then one day, I was thrilled to find another Common Baron Butterfly egg on a half-eaten mango leaf. The resident caterpillar of the leaf, for whatever reason, ate around the egg, as if recognising the egg as the same species. More likely that there was plenty of juicy mango leaf for the caterpillar to eat, instead of attempting to eat what was clearly not a mango leaf.

Common Baron Butterfly larval host mango
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The mango leaf provides enough nutrients for the caterpillar to moult multiple times and prepare to spin itself into a cocoon and moult into a chrysalis.
Eggs of Common Baron Butterfly
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The caterpillar ate around the egg on the mango leaf.

Alas, the successful transformation and metamorphosis of eggs into beautiful butterflies is never a guarantee. Even before the eggs can hatch into tiny caterpillars, some predators and parasites can prove deadly. I observed the same egg that had survived the eating frenzy of the caterpillar, being attacked by a wasp. The wasp proved itself to be a parasite as it injected its eggs into the butterfly egg. Thus, once the wasp eggs hatch, the larvae are ensured a definite source of nutrients. I later observed the same with Common Baron pupae, injected with wasp eggs, that eventually gave birth to wasp larvae instead of beautiful butterflies. Ultimately, it's about how nature ensures balance. The parasite wasps prevent the colonisation of caterpillars, and thus ensures the survival of the mango tree, on which plenty of other organisms are dependent.

Parasitic wasp on egg of Common Baron Butterfly
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The leaf area where the caterpillar thoughtfully spared the butterfly egg to help its survival, is now a host to the parasitic wasp.
Parasitic wasp laying eggs in the pupa of Common Baron Butterfly
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The parasitic wasp injects its eggs into the pupa.
Parasitic wasp on a Common Baron Butterfly pupa
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Another parasitic wasp getting closer so as to end the life within the pupa and grow a life of its own kind.
Common Baron Butterfly pupa infected by parasitic wasps
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The pupa filled with the larvae of the parasitic wasp. Once carrying a soon-to-be butterfly, now it will give birth to wasps.