Kallima Inachus: The Butterfly That Pretends to be a Dead Leaf

Jan 30, 2023 1 comments

A walk through the forests and rainforests of Southeast Asia may bring us a curious surprise. Perhaps at a certain moment while walking we notice that, suddenly, a dry and wilted leaf rises from the ground and flies away as if it were nothing, leaving us wondering how it is possible.

Of course, it's not about magic or anything like that, but a Kallima inachus , a butterfly that can be found in a wide habitat that goes from India to Japan and is one of the best examples of animal camouflage in nature.

A Dead Leaf (Kallima inachus) in the butterfly house of Maximilianpark Hamm, Germany. Photo: Quartl/Wikimedia

It usually flies through the undergrowth and along streams, attracted by tree sap, mud puddles, and ripe fruits, on which it feeds.

When it is chased by a bird and feels in danger, it begins to fly erratically, it suddenly drops into the foliage of the forest and remains motionless with its eyes closed. That way the bird will be unable to find it.

In this position the butterfly looks like a dry leaf, perfectly camouflaging itself from its natural enemies. The disguise is extremely realistic, with veins that resemble the dark veins of a leaf.

Photo: Peellden/Wikimedia

When it closes its wings, only the underside markings are visible, consisting of irregular patterns and striations in many shades of beige, brown, yellow, and black. It even has white spots and dark dots and spots that resemble mold or lichen, so common on wilted leaves in the tropics.

A spur on the hindwing resembles a leaf stalk, and its wings are angular and taper to a point at the forewings, further strengthening the impression.

It produces two generations a year, one in the rainy season and one in the dry season. During the rainy season the butterflies are smaller, but more intensely colored. The females tend to be slightly larger than the males.

Kallima inachus in Namdapha National Park, Arunachal Pradesh, India. Photo: Wikimedia

When it closes its wings on its back, the resemblance to a dead leaf is striking and very conspicuous, and is accentuated by a dark, narrow, straight transverse band running from the apex of the forewing to the hindwing. Often, it presents other narrower oblique bands, which come out of it, all simulating the central vein and the lateral veins of a leaf.

They can be found in India, including at low altitudes in the Himalayas, in Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, southern China, Thailand, Laos, Japan, Taiwan, and Vietnam. Some specimens have been seen in Pakistan recently.

The butterfly usually lives at altitudes below 1,800 meters, but some researchers have recorded its presence up to 2,400 meters in mountainous regions with heavy rainfall. It likes sunny places, and during the day they usually bask on trunks or leaves, with their wings half open, where we won't see them unless, as we said at the beginning, they get scared when we pass by.

Photo: Hsu Hong Lin/Wikimedia

This article was originally published in La Brújula Verde. It has been translated from Spanish and republished with permission.


  1. I'm fairly sure it only closes its wings, not its eyes, when it's lying on the ground.


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