Dry Tropics Biodiversity Group Inc.

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Butterflies (by Peter Valentine) to articles main page |
Some plants listed are not Australian, there are invariably Australian food plants for most. One day we will know a lot more, and will be able to compile the information for readers.

Introduction |Main Families: | Skippers | Swallowtails | Whites and Yellows | Browns, Milkweeds and Nymphs | Blues | Beaks |
General Information
List of Species: | Skippers | Swallowtails | Whites and Yellows | Browns, Milkweeds and Nymphs | Blues
Nectar Food Plants
References |

Introduction: to top |

Australia contains about 400 species, 300 in Tropical Australia, 225 on Cape York. By comparison the other end of the scale is shown by Tasmania 39 spp. (too cold), and South Australia 64 spp. (too arid). Butterflies like it moist and warm.

The total number of butterfly species so far recorded from within Townsville City is 138 (1995), divided between all families. If Bluewater/Paluma rainforest areas are included also, then another 40-50 or so species could be added. The greater Townsville region will probably contain more than 200 species. Some of these species are unlikely to occur in urban gardens, and the following table shows the breakup of species by family and locations.

The "other urban" category includes parks and gardens, uncleared bushland and the James Cook University Campus, but does not include the two species known in Townsville from only Magnetic Island.

Generally there are probably no more species here because of the urbanisation process. Some will have been lost, others added because of this process.

The main families are: to top |

Hesperiidae: These are the Skippers, fast flying usually dull coloured and more moth like. They may only live for 2 weeks in the adult stage. Gardeners will at least recognise Palmdarts Cephrenes spp. which feed on many varieties of native and introduced palms. A patch of soft grass will usually support a small colony of Grassdarts Taractrocera spp.

Papilionidae: The Swallowtails. Longer lived butterflies, mostly large butterflies including the Birdwings Ornithoptera spp, Ulysses Papilio ulysses and the several Swallowtails. Gardners will be familiar with the Orchard Butterfly Papilio aegeus on Citrus spp.

Pieridae: The Whites and Yellows, often abundant. A common surburban butterfly in Townsville is the Northern Jezabel Delias argenthona, often seen fluttering around mistletoe clumps on Callistemon viminalis shrubs.

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Nymphalidae: The Browns (mostly temperate species), Milkweeds (mostly tropical species)and Nymphs (colourful rainforest species). A large family including, the Grass Browns (not sure what species are meant by this?)and the ubiquitous Crows Euploea spp.. A wide variety of plants are used by this family of butterflies. The Crows and Blue Tigers Tirumala hamata, especially live a long time, because adults can turn off sex. Sex driven activity is very wearing... males continuously fight, females are being chased. Hormones can be turned off then can live as adults for 5-6 months, at times then aggregating in huge numbers. Warmth and humidity triggers turn on the hormones.

Lycaenidae: The Blues are mainly small butterflies but fast-flying and include some of the prettiest species. They are easily overlooked, and belong to a large family, 130-140 sp. (in Australia?). There are many in Townsville including the richly coloured Oak Blues Arhopala spp.,and many species with close relationships with ants. They can spend only 2 weeks in the adult flight stage, wings wearing out, or being eaten. The underside of the Blues is commonly dull, the upperside colourful.

Libytheidae: The Beaks (in South Africa the Snouts). One species only in Australia Libythea geoffroy and has been seen here.

Townsville Area Family numbers to top |

Skippers Swallowtails Whites/Yellows Brown/Milkweed/Nymphs Blues

Townsville Garden 14 11 16 23 23 87

Other Urban 9 0 3 3 18 33

Mt Stuart only 9 3 2 1 3 18

Total 32 14 21 27 44 138

Bluewater/Paluma(additnl) 45

General Information: to top |

The most likely family to attract for urban gardeners are the Nymphs, then the Whites and Yellows, and the Swallowtails. These are the large butterflies and so most obvious also. However there are many Blues and Skippers also to be seen by careful observation.

Eggs are laid singly or clustered to 300 eggs in one place. Shape and size of eggs varies enormously. Eggs may not mature for some time... and aridity defence... or may hatch in only a few days to some weeks. Duration depends on warmth and humidity. Likewise the larval stage may pupate for longer times... some swallowtails may pupate for up to 2 years (triggered by a good wet season). The larvae stage may last as short as 10 days with pupation lasting only 1 week to the flying stage (a hugely quick rate). At the other end of the stage... in southern Australia.. it can take 2 years from egg to butterfly, living most of this time low down in grass, and flying for only 2 weeks.

Mostly around Townsville they breed continuously, but shorten the life cycle when it is warmer and moister.

The adult's first key to success is to find a mate. The second key is to disperse to find larval food plants. They can fly a long way. One of the dull poorest looking little Skippers flies 2000 km from the Cape to Rockhampton to breed on Terminalia oblongata seldom stopping at other places on the way... after breeding the next generation flies back. These are just arriving in Townsville in November.

Peter Valentine's interest lies in relationships with animals (mostly ants) or with specific plants.

The range of larval foods can be quite explicit... not only specific species... but also particular to the: fruit, seeds, roots, flowers, leaves or are carnivores (ants).

Butterflies are subject to enormous parasitic attack... mainly by wasps and flies, or they are preyed upon. Probably only 0.5% of butterflies survive to become an adult. Pupae are often fairly safe. A nurturing sleeve over the plant can help increase numbers... when in larvae stage.

Mimicry is common, so it can be hard to differentiate between species. The Batsian mimicry called the YumYuk model works when a yummy butterfly mimics a yukky butterfly, and is successful only when most around are yukky. The Muellerian YukYuk model says that yukky butterflies tend to look similar topredators, reinforcing the yukky learning process in predators. Both models are exhibited within Townsville.

Around Townsville the best place to see butterflies is on the top of sharp topped hills. In 5 minutes will see as many as in 1 hour around the base. Especially a place for males.

Once you have butterflies on your plants they tend to come back. E.g. when heat killed every larvae, even though adults still visited the garden, they tend to lay eggs where they came from... so the is a delay in the reestablishment phase.

Good to plant butterfly plants in sets of three.

Some butterflies need the presence or absence of certain ant species, planting the tree is not enough. Then certain humidities, degrees of shade etc. can be a factor in the colonisation of butterflies. But in general it seems that butterflies will generally colonise the right plants. They will tend to come and go in waves... e.g. some months there will be none around.

Nectar plants are often also needed to see the adults. We do not probably have enough of these, e.g. bottlebrushes.

Scales tend to fall off, leaving poorer looking butterflies after a short while.

Especially useful for larval food plants are: Aristolochia tagala, Scolopia braunii, Melicope elleryana, Planchonia careya, Celtis paniculata, Dendrophthoe glabrescens and other mistletoes, vine Gymnanthera nitida (grows very easily from cuttings), Flacourtia sp. (Cape Plum), Annona muricata (even though exotic), Melodorum leichhardtii (usually without as much foliage.. only for that reason not as good... roots seem to take a long time to develop in lieu of foliage), Micromelum minutum has nice flowers attractive to all butterflies, and berries. Also need nectar for feeding adults and keeping them in the garden. The big larger butterflies are appreciated the most. Another criterion for the general promotion is to attract those butterflies that do hang around in the garden.

Generally need to keep green ants off by destroying the nests (chemicals not as effective). Green ants and mistletoes generally do not mix.

Most butterflies are low in numbers in November.

Commersonia bartramia is a larval food at Paluma. (species unknown?) It can be heavily pruned.

Plant same species in 3-4 locations separated by a little distance. Many butterflies like to fly a bit between different plants.


List of species: to top |

Whites and Yellows (Pieridae)

Dendrophthoe glabrescens is a mistletoe prolific on bottlebrushes around Townsville. Also grows on Melicope elleryana and Melaleuca leucadendron. Mistletoes are wonderful for butterflies. the Northern Jezabel Delias argenthona, is a very common species in Townsville, if you have mistletoe they are sure to be there. Also the Union Jack Delias mysis, feeds on mistletoes (talking about rainforest mistletoes also)

The Caper White Anaphaeis java, is almost guaranteed to have laid eggs on all the Caparis spp. around Townsville at November. Capparis canescens is the most common around here. It will gice the plant a thrashing, but thatis OK. These plants seem to be stimulated to grow by warmth, more watering seems to make little difference.

About 5 species of the Yellow's Eurema spp. are in Townsville. Some are specific to certain plants, several species feed on many plant species. Common on all Breynia sp. also on Phyllanthus spp. especially loved is the one with new red leaves (but probably not on the introduced Phyllanthus sp.). The Common Grass Yellow Eurema hecabe is one, growing on Breynia stipitata.

Orange Migrant Catopsilia scylla and the Yellow Migrant Catopsilia gorgophone feed on Senna surattensis subsp. retusa (was Cassia retusa) that is common in the wild around Townsville. Cassia auriculata also. They are present from September through May, then gone. This plant grows leggy very quickly, it is necessary to prune it hard regularly. One other butterfly feeds on this plant also in Townsville.

Drypetes lasiogyna supports the Common Albatross Appias paulina and the Grey Albatross Appias melania (Paluma). These are very good butterflies to encourage, as they hang around.

Blues (Lycaenidae) to top |

Azureblues Ogyris spp. use several mistletoe species, and need sugar ants to tend the larvae. the larvae provide nectar. Both ants and Azure Blue larvae are nocturnal, in the nest at the base during the day, both up and around togetherat night.

Once Plumbago auriculata (exotic, blue flowers) and P. zeylanica (native on Hervey Range - white flowers) grows to 1/2 metre in diameter, the Zebra Blue Syntarucus plinius is sure to be a constant presence.

Several species of Pale Ciliate Blue Anthene lycaenoides feed on Cassia fistula. but needs green ants to survive.

Copper Jewels Hypochrysops apelles are tiny and exquisite butterflies. Feeding on Planchonia careya their catterpillers are often completely covered with ants. (Few seed germinate on Planchonia careya). Look firstly for the ants, then for the catterpillers. In the late afternoon the males like to dogfight. Look for feeding marks on leaves. They must have the right ants, Chromatogasta spp. (check spelling) little black ants that pop up their heart shaped abdomen at 90 degrees when agitated.

Acacia bidwillii is very adaptable for the Townsville region and hosts Damel's Blue Jalmenus daemeli. It is also attended by ants from the Iridimurmix group (this ant group are characterised by the strong smell when crushed) Look for a cluster of ants to find the larvae. Lots from November till June, then they lay eggs at the base of the plant till it rains in Oct.-Nov. (eggs exhibit diapoise).

Acacia bidwillii also is food for Double Spotted Lineblue Nacaduba biocellata, a really tiny butterfly.

Saltpan Blue Theclinesthes sulpitius feeds on any saltbushes Chenopodiaceae spp. and are common in Townsville around those plants, a tiny butterfly. Unsure of genera, local species include: Halosarcia indica, Halosarcia pergranulata, Sarcornia quinqueflora, Suaeda australis

Eichorns Blue (Eichorn's Crow Euploea eichhorni is in a different family??), feeds on Acacia flavescens preferably, a handsome species but not seen East of the range. Needs a certain species of ant. Eichhorn's Crow Euploea eichhorni feeds occasionally on Gymnanthera nitida, a vine.

Feeding on soft grasses are the Grassdarts Taractrocera spp, with small wings, males are always looking for fights.

The Black and White Tit Hypolycaena danis feeds on most Orchid species, eggs and catterpillars on flowers, buds, stems, etc. 10-12 years ago it extended only as far south as Wallaman Falls, now in Townsville, and increasing in numbers.

Grass Jewell Freyeria trochylus loves Indigofera. Several species around here if not all species are acceptable food. I. hirsuta was mentioned specifically. It is as big as a little fingernail, and flits close to the ground.

The Fiery Jewell Hypochrysops ignitus is another small Jewell, living on Planchonia careya, but needs a different ant species. Need to be close to Jewells to see the colours.

Terminalia sericocarpa is better than T. muelleri, both are great for nectar. They must have green ants. Three species of Oakblues Arhopala spp. use these for larval food.

Alphitonia obovata (couldn't find this species?) is growing in Peter's garden, really nice plant. Two little Blues: the Green Banded Blue (?? name... the small Green Banded Blue is Danis hymetus, the Tailed Green-banded Blue is Danis cyanea)and Cyane Jewell Hypochrysops cyanne. The Green Banded Blue feeds on any local Alphitonia spp.

Australian aeroplane, Bindahara phocides is not found in this area yet. The food plant Salacea chinensis is a vine with small orange red berries in August, native from around the Cairns District. It has been planted optimistically.

Arytera divaricata, with it's lovely pink new foliage, feeds 2 species, Lineblues (which ones) (doesn't like to have green ants) and Dark Ciliate Blues Anthene seltuttus (likes to have green ants).

Malayan Megisba strongyle feeds on Mallotus phillipinensis

Harpullea pendula and Cupaniopsis anacardioides both support Cornelia Deudorix epijarbas larvae in their fruit to eat the seeds.

Glochidion spp. are good for some in the "Candalides" subfamily.

Swallowtails (Papilionidae) to top |

The Cairns Birdwing (Cape York Birdwing) Ornithoptera priamus males patrol under Aristolochia tagala vines at dawn, looking for emerging females with wings still soft and wet. Perhaps most pheromones are emitted by the female at that stage. They pupate for about 5 weeks. Softer leaves promote more butterflies. A virus affects larvae that seems to be promoted by large numbers of larvae. ringbarking the branch is common, and helps reduce the number of larvae. The virus seems to reside on leaves once it is around. Fresh shoots that emerge from the ringbarking seem to be free of the virus.

Pale Green Triangle Graphium eurypylus and the Green Spotted Triangle Graphium agamemnon feed on various Annonaceae spp. Rauwenhoffia leichhardtii is very good for these, also Soursops (Annona muricata, common around Townsville), Custard Apple Annona reticulata and Miliusa brahae.

The Fourbar Swordtail Protographium leosthenes is found on Mt Stuart in vine thickets, especially near the top of hill. It exists only on Rauwenhoffia leichhardtii vines. It would be a really interesting find if found in Townsville.

Lots of Psoralea spp. plants in the Fabaceae family are host to the Checkered Swallowtail, Papilio demoleus a migrant that goes all over Australia. The host genus grows over vast areas in Central Australia, and is very common at the Town Common on the slopes above Shelly Beach, and alongside the highway in the vicinity of the Crematorium. It will feed on Melicope elleryana but will not complete the life cycle. Citrus spp. are acceptable however.

Blue Triangle Graphium sarpedon feeds on any of the Laurels..Beilschmedia spp, Litsea spp, Neolitsia spp. (not Avocado Persea americana). Green ants love to eat the larvae however, so need to be kept away. But they are reasonably common in Townsville. Also on Camphor laurel. Plant 2-3 different Lauraceae spp. and you are sure to attract these butterflies.

The Fuscus Swallowtail (or Capaneus Butterfly) Papilio fuscus with larvae that immitate bird shit, pupate for a long time. Glycosmis pentaphylla, Micromelum minutum are very good, especially M. minutum whose flowers are attractive to all butterflies. The exotic Murraya koenigii is food, and most likely also the local Murraya paniculata. Other Rutaceae spp. are also thought to be food.

Micromelum minutum is also (lesser?) food for the Orchard Butterflies, Papilio aegeus. These feed also on Geijera latifolia and G. salicifolia.

Dryland Aristolochia spp. are the natural food for the unfortunately named Big Greasy Cressida cressida, that flies low to the ground looking for them. Aristolochia tagala is acceptable but they like to lay close to the ground. The males somehow apply waxy chastity belts to the female.

Milkweeds, Browns and Nymphs (Nymphalidae) to top |

Oleander Nerium oleander and Rubber Vine Cryptostegia grandiflora are hosts for the Common Crows Euploea core. They are not tasty, perhaps derived from their host characteristics. They have gorgeous metallic looking pupae that occur often on adjacent plants. They also feed on the vine Gymnanthera nitida.

The Eastern Brown Crow Euploea tulliolus is not as common but might be around. Listed food plant is Malaisia scandens.

Black and White Tiger Danaus affinis, Lesser Wanderer Danaus chrysippus, Blue Tigers Tirumala hamata live adjacent to the edge of mangroves, on Cynanchum carnosum (alternatively Ischnostemma carnosum), like a Hoya. Indeed Hoya is also a host plant.

Glasswings Acraea andromacha feed on Passiflora spp, especially P. foetida. Very common in Townsville. It lays 40 eggs at a time. Catterpillers group together also.

The very handsome Blue Argus Junonia orithya is very easy to attract by growing Pseuderanthemum variabile. Several other species also feed on this plant.

The Common Eggfly Hypolimnas bolina feeds on Pseuderanthemum variabile and related herbs.

The Australian Rustic Cupha prosope grows on Scolopia braunii, especially Flacourtia sp. (Cape Plum), (only new leaves), also Pseuderanthemum variabile and is abundant in Townsville Gardens. S. braunii can be pruned severely. Larvae retreat up the limb to pupate.

Browns. Orange Bushbrown Mycalesis terminus needs soft native grasses

Tailed Emperor Polyura pyrrhus sempronius feeds on Celtis paniculata (species is also very good for nymphs) also some of the Caesalpiniaceae spp. are good food. Females fly in, lay eggs, and fly out and are gone, males seldom seen... they live at the top of hills. Pararchidendron? sp. indet. is also very good (or archidendron) for these.

Celtis paniculata is food also for the Common Aeroplane, Phaedyma shepherdi. C. paniculata can grow in the bush to 50-60 feet high, but is smaller in the garden, especially with little water.

Adenia heterophylla is a passifloraceae that the beautiful big Red Lacewing feeds on. It is rarely seen, though Adults are likely to stay around for a while. A difficult vine in Clay.

Skippers (Hesperiidae) to top |

One of the most primitive butterflies in the world, found around here is the Regent Skipper, Euschemon rafflesia found on Bluewater range, on the rainforest edges on Wilkiea sp. and Tetrasynandra sp. (Wilkiea huegeliana and Tetrasynandra pubescens are the local common species). With moth like coupling devices linking fore and aft wings in flight.

Common Red Eye Chaetocneme beata grows to 4-5 cm. A handsome species whose larvae feed on Neolitsia dealbata. It flies in early morning and late in the evenings only, so is seldom seen. however it rests on it's wings through the day and can be seen there (on N. dealbata?). Found in Paluma/Bluewater, not here yet. Look for tents (cut leaf segments folded over the larvae).

Rare Red Eye Chaetocneme denitza makes tents on Planchonia careya.

There is a good chance that the Black and White Flat Tagiades japetus will be seen in Townsville. It feeds on native yam Dioscorea transversa, and tends to stay around for a while.

Pongamia pinnata is a very useful plant, but the new nice fresh growth gets eaten!!! The Green Orb (not listed, listed is Green Awl, Hasora discolor) but almost certainly this should be Common Banded Awl Hasora chromus? is one that does the damage (and is listed commonly on P. pinnata), a very fine Skipper.

Kangaroo Grass, Themeda triandra, has 2 or 3 species that feed on it... which ones?

Large Ant Blue Acrodipsas brisbanensis is the size of a 5 cent piece, and is a carnivore.

Moth Butterfly Liphyra brassolis is also a carnivore. Big eggs are laid under thick branches, tiny larvae move to a green ant nest. The larvae eat green ant eggs, and are quite common inside green ant nests. Flat larvae shape climbs over larvae, seals out green ants, mouth underneath eats eggs. Pupates inside ant nest but retains hard old skin (inflated, and pupates inside) for added protection? Emerges with soft outer scales that lock up ant jaws. Has a very unusual characteristic of delaying wing inflation until up to 1 hour after emerging, to escape first from the nest. The thought is that this activity evolved from a symbiotic to a predatory relationship. Adults fly at night or early morning, so not seen a lot.

Nectar food for Adult butterflies: to top |

Eucalyptus torelliana flowers for a long time, and feeds bats and butterflies.

Commersonia bartramia is not acceptable food for adults.

Special nectar plants are the Terminalia spp., Melicope elleryana, Micromelum minutum.

References: to top |

Valentine P, Talk at SGAP meeting, Townsville, and at his home.

Valentine P, "Some suggestions for growing Larval food plants for Butterflies in Townsville" 1996

Valentine P, "Butterfly food plants at Joleka" 1995

Valentine P, "Butterflies of Townsville City"

Common I.F.B; Waterhouse D.F., "Butterflies of Australia" 1981 (reference for names/families only)

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