Come and meet
BCSA Inc. was set up in 1998 to
increase awareness of the significant
disappearance of South Australian
butterflies. The group works closely
with the SA Museum.
WE NEED YOUR SUPPORT
SOME BUTTERFLY INFORMATION
Number of species:
Order: Lepidoptera - having scaled wings
Queen Alexander's Birdwing (PNG),
with a wingspan of 280 mm, is the world's
The largest moth has a 360 mm wingspan.
Zizula hylax (Africa/Asia/Australia),
with a wingspan of as little as 6 mm, is
one of the smallest butterflies.
The smallest moth has a 2 mm wingspan.
Butterflies taste with their feet !
There are many threatened and rare
Lepidoptera needing protection in South
Australia. They include many of our
blues and skippers. Their main food
plants are sedges, native grasses and
mistletoe. These are disappearing due to
clearing, and loss of biodiversity from the
pressure of human impacts.
The founding members of BCSA Inc.
include entomologists, conservationists,
naturalists, botanists, butterfly
enthusiasts, and bushland regeneration
The group works closely with the SA
Museum. The inaugural Committee
included butterfly enthusiasts
Roger Grund, Lindsay Hunt, Mike Moore,
Keane (Treasurer), Beth Keane (Chairperson)
and Entomology Senior Collection Manager at the
SA Museum Jan Forrest OAM (Secretary).
We are eager to include a broad range of
talents and experience in BCSA Inc., and
welcome members of all interests and
Present Contacts :
David Keane (Chair.)
Jan Forrest (Secretary) (08) 8297 8230
Mike Moore (Treas.)
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Please complete and return to
Butterfly Conservation SA Inc.,
5 Oakleigh Rd, Marion,
South Australia 5043.
MEET THE LEPIDOPTERA
Butterflies in South Australia
This article highlights the butterflies present in South Australia and their food sources. Further reference can be made to the book 'Butterflies of South Australia' (1978), by Robert H. Fisher.
The insect order Lepidoptera refers to butterflies and moths. In general, butterflies differ from moths in having their wings folded up while at rest, not flat like moths. Butterfly antenna are clubbed at the ends, where moths are mostly feathered or unclubbed, and butterflies fly during the daytime.
In Australia there are over 400 butterfly species and most are located in the tropics. The world number is somewhat uncertain, with recent estimates put at about 17,000 species. There have been about fifty new species added to the latter list in the last two years, although probably the same number have been lost to clearing and change in land use. In SA there are now 78 species recorded, however only one is endemic. Robert Fisher's book describes 64 of the species.
There are 21 skippers (family Hesperiidae) in SA. These are small butterflies which have a mix of brown, orange or yellow markings. They have their antennae 'hooked' at the ends and fold their wings like the stored planes on an aircraft carrier, partly folded. The skippers do not 'flutter' their wings when in flight, rather they tend to have a flitty or jerky motion. The foods required by the larval stages (caterpillars) of SA species are obtained from the monocotyledon group of plants such as mat-rushes (Lomandra spp, Asparagaceae), saw-sedges (Gahnia spp, Cyperaceae), and various grasses (Poaceae). Their presence can be used for environmental indicator purposes, especially for the condition of native grasslands and wetlands. If they no longer occur in these environments then it is a sure sign of historic or presently occurring degradation.
There are just 3 swallowtails (family Papilionidae) in SA. There is the Dingy Swallowtail (Papilio anactus) the larvae of which feed on plants of the citrus family, Rutaceae. This beautiful butterfly can be seen visiting suburban lemon and orange trees, and also throughout the citrus growing areas of the state. The very large Orchard Swallowtail (Papilio aegeus aegeus) breeds in NSW and Qld and is a rare visitor to SA. Its larvae also feed on the citrus family and with luck, the adults might be seen in the vicinity of citrus trees. The magnificent Chequered Swallowtail (Papilio demoleus sthenelus) is a fast flying butterfly which is more common in the northern half of SA. The food plants are the native verbines (Psoralea spp, now called Cullen spp).
Of the whites and yellows (family Pieridae), there are 9 in SA. The whites have dark black patches and spots on the upper sides of the wings, sometimes with distinct underside markings which can be brightly coloured. An example is the Wood White (Delias aganippe) which feeds on mistletoes (Loranthaceae) and on plants of the Santalaceae family such as quandongs. This large butterfly, (illustrated on this page in the background, courtesy of the famous contemporary butterfly painter Charles McCubbin), has been selected by Butterfly Conservation S.A. Inc. as its mascot. This was done so because of its beauty, and also because it now represents the typical plight of most butterflies in SA (which Butterfly Conservation S.A. Inc. hopes to rectify), wherein this butterfly used to be seen every spring flying through gardens in Adelaide, but has now disappeared. Larvae of the Caper White (Belenois java teutonia) mainly feed on the native orange (Capparis mitchellii Capparaceae). The butterfly gathers in large numbers in the Flinders Ranges, and is often seen in the Adelaide Botanic Gardens during its spring migration. The best known of the whites would be the introduced Cabbage White (Pieris rapae), often a pest in our vegetable gardens. It was first introduced to Australia in Melbourne in about 1937, and within six years had spread itself throughout non-tropical Australia. The yellows are all strong migrants. The Small Grass-yellow is the common yellow seen migrating in spring. It feeds on Senna in the central and northern parts of the state. The larger yellows from the northern tropics with the common names Lemon Migrant or White Migrant are rare migrants to the Adelaide region.
There are 17 browns (satyrs), nymphs and danaids (family Nymphalidae), with the group common name of brushfoots, as the two front legs of all the butterflies in this group are much reduced in size and often brush like. This group of butterflies are the most commonly seen around Adelaide, especially the Monarch or Wanderer (Danaus plexippus). In North America the Monarch is also called the Storm Butterfly, probably because of the clustering of the butterflies during late "fall" in California which gives warning of the impending winter storms, or similarly because the large southerly migration of the butterflies east of the Rockies to overwinter in Mexico also occurs during the "fall", with the butterflies staying just ahead of the gathering winter storms. It overwinters by the millions in Mexico. These overwinter gatherings also occur in our Adelaide Hills. The Monarch is a very durable butterfly and can live for up to a year, and is capable of flying across oceans. It could only settle in Australia once the milkweed or cotton bush (Asclepias/ Gomphocarpus spp) plants were introduced by the first settlers, as these plants are their main larval food source. The Lesser Wanderer (Danaus chrysippus petilia) will also feed on milkweeds.
The Common Crow or Oleander Butterfly (Euploea core corinna) is an eastern states visitor which feeds on milk-sap plants including the native figs (Moraceae), oleanders (Apocynaceae) and milkweeds (Asclepiadaceae). Butterfly larvae that feed on these plant families gain protection from predators, as these plants contain toxic properties which are transferred to the larvae and adult butterflies. This is an effective survival technique, as the toxins can be fatal to animals or birds, or at least make them very ill.
The Common Brown (Hereronympha merope) can be seen in woodland areas around the Adelaide Hills where it survives on the local kangaroo grass (Themeda triandra) and other grasses. The females of the Common Browns are larger than, and look very different to the males. Both males and females emerge from their chrysalis in early summer, but the females go into hiding until autumn when they emerge again to start egg laying on the new grass produced by autumn rains.
The very large Tailed Emperor (Polyura sempronius), perhaps our most spectacular butterfly, introduced itself to SA for the first time in 1972 during protracted hot and humid weather. It has since established itself on introduced garden plants. Sometimes called the Four Tail it can be seen soaring high above the canopy in gardens during the summer. Its food plants range from kurrajongs (Brachychiton spp) and wattles such as Acacia baileyana, to "albizia" and the false acacia (Robinia).
The Common Eggfly (Hypolimnas bolina nerina) is a vagrant nymph butterfly from the northern parts of Australia, feeding on lesser joy weed (Alternathera denticulata) and sida (Sida rhombifolia). The males are very different to the females, having four large white eyes on the upper wings, ringed with iridescent purple.
One of SA's most common butterflies is the ubiquitous Australian Painted Lady (Vanessa kershawi) which can be seen throughout the year. It is very closely related to the common Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) found elsewhere in the world. Its larval diet is composed of plants from the daisy family (Compositae), e.g. capeweed (Arctotheca) and everlastings (Helichrysum spp). Like the Wanderer, this butterfly along with the Painted Lady are capable of spanning oceans with migrating butterflies often reported flying around ships in the middle of oceans.
The Australian Admiral (Vanessa itea) is allied to the European Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta), both feeding on stinging nettles (Urtica spp). Admirals are noted for their fast flight, flashing about and coming to rest infrequently on flowers of Scabiosa and Buddleia, or upside down on vertical walls.
The Meadow Argus (Junonia villida calybe), as seen on the recent Australian postage stamps, is also one of our common butterflies. It has beautiful markings with rings or 'eyes' on the upper sides of the wings, and is a fast flyer. The larval food plants around Adelaide include the weed plantain (Plantago lanceolata), woolly toadflax (Kickxia spp), verbena and various native plants of the daisy and Goodeniaceae families. It is related to the American Buckeye butterfly.
The Glasswing (Acraea andromacha) can be seen occasionally in SA. Its larvae use native passion plants as a food source. The glasswing group of butterflies are very common in Africa.
In SA the blues and coppers (family Lycaenidae) comprise the greatest number of species. There are presently 28 recorded in the state. They are mostly small butterflies, but none the less are often highly coloured and many have interesting associations with ants. The larvae have special glands near their rear ends which produce both sweet secretions to feed the ants, and special scents to pacify the ants so the ants will not think they are a food morsel. This association with the ants affords the larvae some protection from other predators or parasitoids, and the larvae can often occur in large numbers either within the ants nest or within special chambers dug by the ants. The ants are often said to be farming the larvae, although in the eyes of the butterfly it could be the other way round. The mutual benefit is a symbiotic relationship.
This group is special as it includes the only butterfly endemic to our state, the Lithochroa Hairstreak (Jalmenus lithochroa), but which is not related to the Hairstreaks of the northern hemisphere. It can now only be found in the Flinders Ranges where it is threatened. Early lepidopterists found this species breeding on golden wattle (Acacia pycnantha) near Adelaide, but the butterfly has now disappeared from this area. Butterfly Conservation South Australia Inc. will be working on a program for its possible re-introduction in the future. The butterfly only uses the prickly Acacia victoriae in the Flinders Ranges where its larvae are protected by the large, ferocious meat-ant!
The blues and coppers have many interesting common names and include the iridescent Azures (Ogyris spp), Fiery Jewel, Grass Blues, and Small Copper. The larval foods are wide ranging and commonly include the Leguminosae family such as wattles (Acacia spp), the Sturt pea, running postman (Kennedia prostrata), native bush-peas and even sweet peas. Food plants also come from the Lauraceae family (such as snotty-gobbles Cassytha spp), the Loranthaceae family which contains the mistletoes which are especially important for the Ogyris butterflies, the Proteaceae family (grevilleas and hakeas), Euphorbiaceae family (Adriana spp), Santalaceae which is the quandong family, plus many other foodplant groups. Several species actually use young ants as a food source.
The Small Copper is the only copper to be presently found in the state, which uses the creeping yellow oxalis as a foodplant. It is not related to the true coppers found in the northern hemisphere, and also oddly enough, in New Zealand.
Butterflies are attracted to gardens that contain sources of nectar for 'refuelling', targeting small cluster flowers such as paper daisies, scabious, buddleias, aster, verbenas and most native flowers. However the most important factor for their breeding are the food plants required by their larval stage, the caterpillars. Butterfly Conservation S.A. Inc. is endeavouring to provide interested groups with the information needed to promote butterfly conservation in South Australia. If you would like to find out more then why not join our group, membership is only $10. Phone (08) 82978230 and ask for Jan Forrest (Secretary)
|The background image is the registered emblem for Butterfly Conservation S.A. Inc.|