Do you have these butterflies in your backyard?

Posted Feb 23, 2021
Warm weather followed by rain makes for a perfect summer in Queensland to be out spotting butterflies! Have you seen certain butterflies in your backyard?

There’s something unworldly about butterflies. Their beauty, their delicateness, their transformative lifecycle, and their short life span all contribute a sort of mystical air that leaves us as a society transfixed by them.

Butterflies are used as tourism emblems, decorations for weddings, themes for freedom and beauty in pop-culture, and their lifecycle constantly studied in schools. 

In Australia, there’s around 440 different species of butterfly, and each butterfly relies on very particular environments such as specific plants for reproduction or certain climates. Here’s a closer look at a few of Australia’s brilliant butterfly species.  

Monarch Butterfly

One of the most widely recognised butterfly species, the Monarch is native to North America and was first recorded in Australia in the 1870s.

The Monarch has a strong breeding population across Australia and the Pacific Islands. They can also travel at a speed of up to 40 kilometres per hour.

Throughout the summer months, female butterflies lay single eggs under the leaves of milkweed plants. The newly hatched caterpillars feed on the plant’s milky sap, making them poisonous to predators. The caterpillar’s markings serve as a pretty warning to would-be predators, signalling their toxicity.

Wingspan: Over 9cm

Host plant: To attract the Monarch Butterfly into your garden, you should cultivate milkweed or swan plant.

Region: The east and south-west coast in Australia

monarch butterfly

monarch caterpillar

Monarch butterfly as a caterpillar

Varied Eggfly

Also called the Blue Moon butterfly. Female butterflies will watch and carefully choose a plant with no ants. They will then lay up to five eggs on the underside of the leaves and guard the plant. The male butterflies are also highly territorial creatures. As caterpillars, they like to feast on joy weed and love flowers among other exotic, weedy plants.

Wingspan: Up to 9cm

Host plant: To attract the Varied Eggfly into your garden, you should cultivate joy weed, emu foot or love flowers.

Region: They inhabit the coastal regions of Australia.

varied eggfly butterfly

varied eggfly caterpillar

Varied eggfly caterpillar

Orchard Swallowtail Butterfly

Also known as the large Orchard butterfly. They have a relatively large wingspan, but despite their size, their flight patterns are observed as slow and erratic. Both male and female butterflies live for up to three months as adults.

The Orchard Swallowtail caterpillars are fond of citrus and native species from the Family Rutaceae, they also prefer to eat young, juicy leaves.

Wingspan: Up to 12cm

Host plant: To attract the Orchard Swallowtail into your garden, you should cultivate citrus plants and natives from the Family Rutaceae.

Region: A predominantly north and eastern Australian species.

orchard swallowtail butterfly

orchard swallowtail caterpillar

Orchard Swallowtail caterpillar

Blue Tiger Butterfly

The Blue Tiger butterfly head south in Spring and Summer, and can be mainly spotted year-round in North Queensland.

Did you know? The Blue Tiger butterfly larvae eat their host plant (Corky Milk Vine) which is toxic to many other animals, and the poisons are passed onto pupae and adult butterflies – protecting them from being eaten by birds!

They can live up to 6 months as butterflies.

Wingspan: Up to 7.5cm

Region: Mainly a tropical butterfly that can be spotted year-round in North Queensland.

Host plant: If you want to attract these creatures to your backyard, their host plant is the Corky Milk Vine.

blue tiger butterflies in bush

Blue Tiger butterflies

The Cairns Birdwing Butterfly

Also known as the Cooktown birdwing and the northern birdwing, these butterflies are the largest in Australia and can grow up to 18cm wide. The male butterfly is usually gold, green, and black – while the female is usually a less colourful black and white. These butterflies tend to only live in their butterfly state for up to five weeks.

The Birdwing caterpillars are a dull brown but possess black and orange spikes that contain poison that acts to protect them from predators before they enter chrysalis.

Wingspan: Up to 18cm

Host plant: Aristolchia vines, with the exception to Aristolchia elegans which have leaves that are toxic to the larvae.

Region: Generally found in tropical areas in north east Queensland.

richmond birdwing butterfly

Cooktown Birdwing butterfly. Photo by Teale Britstra.

Butterfly Facts

Butterfly Facts

  • A few other species of butterfly also have symbiotic relationships with ants – including the Silky Hairstreak and the Imperial Hairstreak, which are also attracted to the larvae because of secretions.
  • The average life of a butterfly is around two weeks, but some species can live over 11 months such as the Mourning Cloak (a North American butterfly). In Australia, the Monarch Butterfly can live up to 8 months in winter, and the Blue Tiger Butterfly can live up to six months.
  • There are about 17,500 butterfly species in the world.

Thank you to the Butterfly House at Bribie Island where we were able to take some of these amazing butterfly and caterpillar photographs for this article.

We’d love to hear what types of butterflies you’ve spotted in your backyard! You can leave us a comment below.

Jake Allwood
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