When we watch a spectacular butterfly flutter past we admire their beauty. But there is so much more to butterflies than meets the eye.
Butterflies, skippers and moths all belong to a single order Lepidoptera and fall into six broad families:
The Bathurst Copperwing butterfly (Paralucia spinifera) is an endangered species feeding only on a particular subspecies of the native blackthorn shrub (Bursaria spinosa subsp. lasiophylla) in the western Blue Mountains.
The butterfly occurs above elevations of 900 metres and has a mutualistic relationship with a species of ant, Anonychomyrma itinerans, which tend the caterpillars and even herd them into the ant nest for protection each night.
While butterfly larvae and pupae secrete food for the worker ants, the ants in return protect the larvae from outside threats such as parasites and predators.
In 2015 I noticed populations of the Imperial Hairstreak appearing in new areas after the 2013 fires to breed in the Acacia regrowth.
Some caterpillars make use of exotic plants. The larvae of the Orchard Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio Aegeus) now happily feed on citrus trees and the larvae of the Blue Triangle butterfly (Graphium sarpedon) feed on Camphor Laurel. See their lifecycle below.
I wonder how the transition from native to introduced food plants happened and how their range has changed with the spread of garden plants?
By contrast the Imperial Hairstreak lay eggs which overwinter and the larvae emerge later in the year.
We also get migrant butterflies depending on conditions outside the Mountains, such as the Caper Whites which passed through the Mountains on their migration for about 2 weeks in 2015.
The diversity of butterfly species varies with each month the majority occurring in the warmer months.
Plumbago shrubs in our gardens come alive when the Plumbago Blue (Leptotes plinius) emerge each Autumn.
The diversity also changes each year depending on conditions here and elsewhere in the case of migrating species.
As with other wildlife the more you look the more you see. So keep an eye out for your local butterflies and give them a second thought – there is more than meets the eye!
[Robin uses a Canon 600D with a 100mm macro lens.]