Adult Male Monarch Butterfly
This year’s Christmas Nymphalid Butterfly is a Monarch. When Sam found it in the yard on May 19, 2012, she thought it was recently dead. It had no reaction to being held.
It was in fine condition, though. All of its head appendage and legs were intact.
It’s a little hard to see, but in this next picture I’ve pointed out the two front legs, which are greatly reduced in size and held tucked close to the body (which leaves it only four legs to stand on). These are the “brush feet” that are characteristic of the “brush-footed butterflies” in the family Nymphalidae, which includes monarchs.
It was still flexible enough that the wings could be easily spread, and we can see the scent glands on the hindwings that show it is a male.
But then, after holding perfectly still for all those pictures, he abruptly “woke up”! He’d just been playing dead! So Sam let him go, and he flew off.
I don’t know if he was actually near death and that was his last surge of activity, or if he was lethargic from cold and took a while to warm up, or if playing dead is a normal response for a Monarch when it thinks it has been captured by a predator. It might be: their main defense is their bad taste, and holding still might help them keep from injuring themselves while their potential predator figures this out.