No, these golden beauties are not fine jewelry or decorative trinkets. Although they look metallic, they are actually made of chitin, the material that gives some insects their shiny look. And inside these chitin containers, are baby butterflies!
The orange-spotted tiger clearwing butterfly (or mechantis polymnia) lives in the jungles from Mexico down to the Amazon forests. They are colorful orange, yellow, and black butterflies, similar to a monarch butterfly, and grow to about 3-inches wide. The shiny golden cocoons they spin contain pupae, the third stage of baby butterfly’s development.
Since pupae cannot move and are unable to defend themselves, they often rely on the appearance of their cocoon to deter predators. It is believed that the shiny surface of the orange-spotted tiger clearwing’s cocoon scares predators who see their own reflection and are not smart enough to know they are looking at themselves. The shiny cocoon also reflects nearby plants making the cocoon very hard to see.
Tithorea harmonia, or the Harmonia tiger wing butterfly, has very similar cocoons.
Check out more beautiful orange-spotted tiger clearwing butterfly cocoons in the pictorial gallery below!