Dynastor darius darius is an odd looking caterpillar. Its long green body is punctuated by a distinctly black head covered with hairs exploding like miniature fireworks.
But when these caterpillars enter their pupal stage — when the insects craft chrysalises to become butterflies in — the odd look becomes instantly familiar. As D. darius liquefies itself in pupal preparation, its protection takes the shape of some of the best mimicry we’ve ever seen.
Native to Trinidad, you can find these incredible snake head chrysalises hanging on the underside of forest leaves. You’ve likely heard of or seen caterpillars that mimic snakes before, like the gorgeous Hemeroplanes triptolemus, but to see a chrysalis like this almost perfectly put on a viper’s visage…that’s something else.
For 13 days, D. darius destroys and reforms itself inside what looks like the head of a Gaboon pit viper (though the snakes aren’t native to Trinidad).
Though the snake head is convincing enough to fool even us for a moment, what advantage is it to only confuse a predator while immobile, like a Metapod only using “harden”? The pupa has another trick up its many sleeves: it can still sense and react to the world outside its shell of hardened protein.