Butterfly watching can be like bird watching.  All that is required are binoculars, a field guide, and a notebook and pen to record the observed information.  There are still large areas within South Australia in which the distribution data of butterflies is unknown.  There is plenty of scope for an observer to make a new recording of a butterfly for South Australia and indeed there is still scope to observe a totally new butterfly.  Within the past 10 years, 10 new distributional recordings within South Australia have been made.  For the past twenty five years in Australia, there has been on average a new butterfly described every year.

Distribution data for the more rare butterflies is always extremely useful for future conservation work.  More detailed information is still required on the biology and food hosts of South Australian butterflies.  In particular, the life histories for the unique Lycaenid butterflies Bronze Ant-blue (Acrodipsas brisbanensis), Eastern Large Bronze Azure (Ogyris halmaturia) and the Mallee Bronze Azure (Ogyris subterrestris).  A comprehensive data base of information on South Australian butterflies is currently being put together by volunteers, who are eager to receive new information.  This information can also be published in the newsletter of Butterfly Conservation South Australia.  For information on how you can further take an interest in butterflies refer to Butterfly Conservation South Australia.


It’s Hesperilla chrysotricha.   It’s what !    Has it got a common name ?

I call it the Chrysotricha Sedge-skipper, but others call it the Golden-haired Sedge-skipper and in Tasmania people know it as the Shoreline or Plebeia Skipper.

But why so many names ?

There are many common names for butterflies because people in different places have given them their own local names.  Scientists need to agree on one name so that no one is confused about which butterfly is being written or spoken about.  Scientists classify animals into groups.  The groups of similar animals are subdivided into smaller groups until a genus and species name is given.  Animals in the same genus are very similar.  Animals in the same species can interbreed to produce fertile offspring (although insects being invertebrates do not always follow the same interbreeding rules as vertebrates).  Scientists always write the scientific name in italics.

Within the Kingdom ANIMALIA, butterflies are classified in the following manner: -

Arthropods are jointed-limbed animals with hardened exoskeletons (the skeleton is on the outside of the body).

Insects have three major body regions, three pairs of legs, one pair of antennae and one or two pairs of wings.

Order LEPIDOPTERA (from Greek lepido, scale, and ptera, wings)
Butterflies and moths.  All have scales on the wings and body.  The wing scales are arranged in regular overlapping rows.

Butterflies and the evolutionary advanced moths; (have two abdominal openings)

There are about 250,000 moth species, and about 17,000 butterfly species in the world.  About 400 butterflies live in Australia and of these, 78 species are presently known from South Australia.

The South Australian butterflies are grouped into five families, within two superfamilies.

Family HESPERIIDAE,  20 species commonly called skippers.
These are small and usually sombre coloured butterflies that have a rapid ‘jerky’ flight.

The special group into which the ‘true’ butterflies belong

Family PAPILIONIDAE,  3 species belonging to the swallowtails. 
Distinctive for being large showy butterflies, often with long tails to the hindwings.  Their unique grouping is based on the possession on an epiphysis on the forelegs, and that they possess 6 fully functional legs.  Their caterpillars all possess an osmeterium.

Family PIERIDAE,  9 species commonly called whites or yellows.
These are small to large sized butterflies in which the predominant colour is white or yellow.  These butterflies have 6 fully functional legs, but do not possess an epiphysis on the foreleg.   In the male the segments of the fore tarsus are not fused into one segment.

Family NYMPHALIDAE,  17 species commonly called browns (satyrs), danaids, nymphs, etc.
These are small to large butterflies, often dark in colour, and often have distinctive eyespots (ocelli) on the wings.  The butterflies only have four fully functional legs for walking.  The forelegs are much reduced in size, hence the collective common name for the group of brush-foot butterflies.  In the males the segments of the fore tarsus are fused into one segment.  The butterflies are grouped into a number of sub-families, hence some of the grouping names above.

Family LYCAENIDAE,  28 species commonly called blues, coppers, hairstreaks and metalmarks.
These are very small to medium sized butterflies.  The wing colours are usually blue, purple or copper-orange above, having a metallic lustre to their colour.  They are often associated with ants.  The legs are fully functional for walking although the males are slightly crippled as the segments of the fore tarsus are fused into one segment.  They have unique eye developments in that the eye is emarginate where the antennae is attached to the head.


Other smaller groupings commonly used in classification, in descending order of rank, are Subfamilies, Supertribes, Tribes, Subtribes, Genus, Subgenus, Species and finally Subspecies.  Each butterfly has its own scientific name.  The same scientific name cannot be used again, except within another kingdom.

(The classification of animals into groups is only an arbitrary system, based on the collective similarities of morphological attributes of the different animals.  A final grouping result is dependant largely on the scientist(s) that study that particular section of animals or in our case, butterflies.  Hence, the morphological attributes used by scientists to classify one group of butterflies may differ to those used by another group of scientists to classify another group of butterflies, (or in some cases, even the same group of butterflies and often resulting in a different classification).  Unfortunately, there is presently no rigorous methodology in place such that each of the different classification groups can be defined by a given set of consistent morphological attributes or parameters, (i.e. five scientists using the same information will give five different results).  The use of DNA tissue analysis in recent years has provided additional parameters to aid in further defining these classification groups in butterflies, and has shown many of these earlier arbitrary groupings to be inadequate.)

Want more information ?  Try Natural History Museum Glossary

In the case of our butterfly above, the full scientific name (for written text purposes), for the butterfly that occurs in South Australia is Hesperilla chrysotricha (Meyrick and Lower, 1902) cyclospila (Meyrick and Lower, 1902).   The first italic word denotes the genus (starting with a capital letter), the second italic word (in combination with the genus name) denotes its species name, while the third italic word (in combination with the preceding genus and species names) is its subspecific name.  The latter describes the smallest subgroup, used to define geographically isolated, distinctly recognizable morphological populations within a species distributional range.  Use of three italic names is called a trinomial naming system.  The scientific names used are invariably derived from the classical Latin or Greek languages, but sometimes proper nouns from the modern languages are also used, since there are only a limited number of words available in the former languages.

The species Hesperilla chrysotricha is present in southern mainland Australia, and in Tasmania.  The subspecies cyclospila occurs in South Australia, Victoria and Tasmania.  Another subspecies chrysotricha occurs in Western Australia.  Its morphology is different to the eastern states butterfly.  The subspecies chrysotricha is called the nominotypical race because it was from Western Australia that the species was first described by the scientists.  The nominotypical race always uses the species name as its subspecific name.  The two subspecie populations are geographically separated by the semi-arid Nullarbor Plain, and therefore there has not been any interbreeding between the two populations, and so the two populations have remained morphologically distinct. 

In special circumstances (for reference purposes), both the species name and subspecies name is followed by the name of the person(s) who first described the butterfly (gave it a scientific species or subspecies name) in scientific literature, and the year of its publication.  Meyrick and Lower were two gentlemen who gave it the chrysotricha species name (in 1902).  They also gave the South Australian butterfly the subspecific cyclospila name (again in 1902).  The scientists' personal names are placed in brackets because they originally described the butterfly under the genus name Telesto.  If they had described it under the genus Hesperilla then their personal names would not have been placed in brackets.  (If there are no recognised subspecies, then the scientific name is treated as a binomial).

It is obvious the full written text name of the above butterfly is inordinately long, so it is usual to leave out the scientist's name(s) after the italic species name, and just recognise the scientist(s) who gave the butterfly its subspecies name.  Unless the text is a full blown scientific treatise, then it is also normal to leave out the publication date, to shorten the name even further.  When writing about the butterfly in general terms, and especially after the full name of the butterfly has been written down earlier (or elsewhere) in the text, then it is also normal to then completely leave off the scientist's name(s).  The latter conventions have been followed on this internet site.

Sometimes, butterflies are given form or variant scientific names.   e.g.  Catopsilia pomona pomona (Fabricius) form catilla (Cramer).  This occurs when the adult butterfly (either male or female, or both) has a distinctly different, but consistent morphological pattern within the overall species population, and which is not due to geographical isolation.  This morphology is usually genetically controlled (recessive, dominant or sex linked), but sometimes it is phenotypic (environmentally) controlled.

So, there you have it.  Confused ?  Never mind, so am I, but it will all fall in place after a while when you have viewed a few names in the Checklist of South Australian Butterflies.


Skippers are not closely related to the 'true butterflies' as they evolved from moths independently of the true butterflies.  However, because the two groups look similar, and as they both generally fly together during the day, they are usually lumped together as butterfly fauna.


"True" butterfly

  Usually a sombre brown and yellow colour   Usually brightly coloured
  Most skippers at rest have a distinctive pose, with the forewing leading edge inclined to the body at a shallow angle, (although some skippers called "flats", rest with both wings held flat).   Most butterflies at rest have a distinctive pose, with the forewing leading edge inclined to the body at a high angle, (although some butterflies prefer to rest with the wings held flat).
  Antennae widely spaced on the head   Antennae closely spaced on the head
  Antennae clubs are usually hooked   Antennae clubs are not hooked
  Flight rapid and jerky (hence the general common name of skipper)   Flight flappy or may glide (although there are a few oriental swallowtails that fly like skippers)
  At rest the hindwings are often depressed independent of the upright forewings   At rest the hindwings are not depressed independent of the upright forewings
  Peripheral wing veins not stalked.  i.e. they all emanate from the cell or wing base   Peripheral wing veins can be stalked.  i.e. they emanate from other peripheral wing veins
  An epiphysis is present on the foreleg   An epiphysis is present on the foreleg only in the Papilionidae





  Usually fly during the day   Usually fly during the night
  Antennae are usually clubbed on the ends   Antennae are usually either thread-like or comb-like
  The forewing and hind-wing are not coupled by a frenulum, (except for one Australian 'living fossil' butterfly called the Regent Skipper, Euschemon rafflesia)   The forewings and hind-wings are coupled by various means, often by a frenulum, to make one continuous surface
  The pupa is usually not in a silken cocoon   The pupa is usually enclosed in a silken cocoon
  The butterfly usually rests with the wings folded together and upright above the body   The moth usually rests with the wings folded back along the body in the shape of a long pitched tent or roof



Author:  R. GRUND, copyright 1999, all rights reserved.   Last update 12 July 2011.