Queensland Day Moth, Alcides metaurus

Australia has 20-30000 species in the order Lepidoptera, of which about 450 are butterflies. There isn’t a big difference between butterflies and moths. Both usually have a coiled proboscis and four scaly wings. Some butterflies are active at night, and numerous moths  fly during the day,  many of those have clubbed antennae. One of our  more conspicuous species is the large Queensland Day Moth, Alcides metaurus (family Uraniidae):

Classifying moths is often not easy: one might have to look at their genitals, which are usually withdrawn into the abdomen! Therefore, some of the moths featured in our blog posts do not have a name to them (feel free to let us know, if you can identify them!), sometimes we cannot even  determine the family (there are about 80 families in Australia). Birds are so much easier!

A few nights ago, our mothlight attracted, amongst many Christmas and Rhinoceros beetles and other moths:

Aglasoma variegata (family Lasiocampidae):

viewed from another angle:

and a portrait, showing off the ‘woolly legs’:

Another species, holding the abdomen in an upright position, maybe for better camouflage:

Praesusica placerodes (family Limacodidae):

A front view reveals the striped legs:


and some more moths:

Hawk Moths (family Sphinghidae) are plentiful at the moment:

and so are the often very large Wood Moths (family Cossidae). The famous ‘witchetty grubs’ belong here.

The variety of patterns and shapes seems endless. These moths are well-adapted to life in eucalypt forests. You wouldn’t be able to spot them  amongst dried gum leaves:

or this moth on the bark of a Red Mahogany:

There surely will be more posts to come about moths, featuring our more unusual and/or colourful species!

A most beautifully presented, and very useful guide for identifying our local moths, is Buck Richardson’s book

Tropical Queensland Wildlife from dawn to dusk, Science and Art”.

Contact details for Buck are:

Regent Skippers

Regent Skipper

Regent Skippers (Euschemon rafflesia) are the largest of the Australian skippers, and beautifully coloured, especially our tropical subspecies E.rafflesia alba.                            The first butterflies appear in late September, and it seems they complete 3 generations before they make themselves scarce towards the end of March.RS2

They are very unusual in having a feature, which normally is an important difference between butterflies and moths: males have a spine on the hindwing (a frenulum), which couples it with a loop under the forewing.

They are easy to observe, as they often settle on shrubs for a while. This one even sat on my hand for a while!RS on handThe food plant for their caterpillars (Wilkiea pubescens, a tall shrub) grows in abundance on our property. Wilkiea fruits are very popular with many birds, like Superb Fruit-doves, and we’ve even watched a tree-kangaroo eat mouthfuls of the unripe berries.RS on Wilkiea

RS1Sometimes they even come to lights at night:RS at nightThe female skippers lays a single, ribbed egg on the underside of a leaf.RS laying egg

RSeggThe emerging larva builds a shelter by cutting out part of a leaf and folding it back onto the upper surface. They emerge to feed at night.

skipper caterpillar

Butterflies May 2013

North Queensland is particularly rich in butterflies, with more than 270 of Australia’s 420 described species occurring here. The Wet Tropics rainforests are the best places to find butterflies, and many species complete several generations per year, so most can be found throughout the year, but many adults are most abundant at the end of the wet season.

The largest species is the Cairns Birdwing (Ornithoptera euphorion), with the females reaching a wingspan of 125mm.

birdwing butterfly female

birdwing caterpillar and pupa

They are laying their eggs on a very small number of Aristolochia and Parastolochia species, of which we have many specimen in our garden and forest. Often, a male can be seen following a female:

The caterpillars incorporate the plant toxins in their bodies, and the adult butterfly is distasteful to predators, too, which allows them to sail leisurely through the air, whereas the Ulysses butterfly (Papilio ulysses) has a fast, erratic flight and always closes its wings when resting, exposing only the cryptically patterned underside.

ulysses 2

I was very lucky to observe this one, which must have just emerged from its pupa: it sat for several minutes with outstretched wings, and when it flew off, it fluttered rather clumsily low to the ground.


A short time later, she was discovered by a male!

Blue Triangle (Graphium sarpedon) and Green-spotted Triangle (G.agamemnon) rarely stop to settle, flying powerfully and erratically.

Blue triangle

Another common, larger butterfly is the Cruiser (Vindula arsinoe). Males establish a territory by perching high on a leaf in bright sunlight,


the same behaviour is shown by the male Varied Eggfly (Hypolimnas bolina):

Varied Eggfly

The Large Green-banded Blue (Danis danis), a smaller species, prefers the darker, shady areas of the forest.

large green-banded blue

The aptly named Orchid Flash (Hypolycaena danis) can often be seen  around our Dendrobium and Cattleya orchids. The caterpillars are short  and chubby and have  exactly the bright green colour of the leaves, so are very hard to spot. Usually, I only discover them when the damage to the plant becomes obvious.

orchid flash

This pretty flutterer is not a butterfly at all, but a day-flying moth, Milionia queenslandica

Milionia queenslandica

Since we do not want to harm all those beautiful butterflies by catching them with a net, identification is a slow process,  but we will not run out of new species to add to our list for a long time.

For more details on the biology of the Birdwing butterfly, see the Wet Tropics Management Authority’s factsheet: