29 August 2008

Life History of the Peacock Royal

Life History of the Peacock Royal (Tajuria cippus maxentius)
An updated version of the life history of the Peacock Royal can be found by clicking this link.

Butterfly Biodata :
Genus : Tajuria Moore, 1881
Species : cippus Fabricius, 1798
Subspecies : maxentius Fruhstorfer, 1912
Wingspan of Adult Butterfly : 29~33mm
Caterpillar Host Plant : Dendropthoe pentandra (Loranthaceae)

Life Cycle
Egg 4 days
1st Instar 3~4 days
2nd instar 4 days
3rd instar 4 days
4th instar 7 days
Pre-pupation 2 days
Pupa 10 days

Physical Description of Adult Butterfly :
The upper side of the male is a beautiful royal blue with a broad black apical border on the forewing. The female is a light pale blue with a series of black post-discal striae. The underside is a silvery grey with post discal series of dark striae on both wings. The tornal spots are orange-crowned and both sexes possess two pairs of tails.

Field Observations of Butterfly Behavior :
The butterfly is a fast-flyer in the field, often found feeding at flowering bushes and trees. When disturbed it flies rapidly high up to nearby shrubs but often returns later to the bushes to continue feeding.

Males are often observed sun bathing showing off their beautiful blue uppersides under the sun.

Early Stages:
Eggs are laid singly on the young leaf surfaces or stems of the host plant. The colour of the newly laid egg is white to slightly greenish and mature eggs turn white before hatching.

The egg is typically dome shape and measures ~0.93mm diameter. It has a depressed micropylar on top and the surface is slightly sculptured otherwise smooth.

Freshly laid Peacock Royal egg, diameter is about 0.9~1.0mm

It takes 4 days for eggs to hatch. The young caterpillar does not consume the eggshell after hatching, leaving an empty eggshell with a small round opening atop the micropylar area.

The caterpillar's body looks a bit shiny and light tan in colour with three darker tan wavy markings horizontally across the dorsal. The 1st instar caterpillar is hairy with fine and short setae below and around the body and longer setae on top of the segments.

The 1st instar caterpillar has 10 body segments and the spiracles are located closer to the top side of the segments. At the top of each of the body segments are the saw-tooth liked tubercles with setae which has white colour tip.

The 1st instar caterpillar feeds mainly on the under surface of the leave tissue and leaving many “windows” on the leaf.

A newly hatched 1st instar caterpillar measures around1.2~1.5mm and about 2mm after half a day.

Windows’ created by the 1st instar caterpillar

The 1st instar caterpillar feeds on the under surface of young leaf tissue.

Mature 1st Instar caterpillar measures 3.2~3.4mm just hours before molting to 2nd Instar. Interesting observation is that each tubercle is surrounded by a transparent “air pocket”

Freshly molted 2nd Instar caterpillar feeding on its 1st skin with length of ~3.4mm

It takes 3 days for the 1st instar caterpillar to molt. The freshly molted 2nd instar caterpillar immediately feeds on its 1st instar skin. At this stage all the setae are dropped with body color and markings remain the same as the final 1st Instar caterpillar.

Freshly molted 3rd instar caterpillar remains the same colour as 2nd instar caterpillar except that the transparent pockets on the tubercles are gone now

Four days after, the caterpillar advances to its 3rd instar. Colour and markings remain the same (but I also notice some earlier breeds actual were green in colour) and it changes its feeding habit to eat on the edge of the leave.

Green coloured 3rd instar caterpillars. The colour of the caterpillars blends in well with the environment e.g. the green twig.

4th instar caterpillar, early in this stage, length: 13mm

The freshly molted 4th instar caterpillar changes its body colour to maroon brown with three light pinkish cloudy patches located between the last segment leg and beginning of the end of the body after segment 7. On top of segments 2 and 3 is now dark in orange, this includes the tubercles at segments 5 ~7 as well.

The tubercles on segments 1 and 2 are not so prominent on this 4th instar caterpillar. The transparent ‘air pockets’ on top of the tubercles of the 3rd instar caterpillar have now disappeared.

Mature 4th instar caterpillar.

A 4th instar instar caterpillar continues to feed on the edge of the leaf

A few hours after molting the appearance of this 4th instar changes. The light pinkish cloudy patches turn dusted pinky patches. The light pinkish cloudy patch at the front of head is now disappeared and replaced by three black marks and they look like two eyes and a mount. There are now two ‘black eyes’ appearing at the end of the abdomen as well.

Pre-pupating caterpillar of the Peacock royal, note the pinkish colour patches which turns lighter to eventually white

After 7 days the 4th instar caterpillar stops feeding and wanders around the container searching for a place to undergo its final molt into a pupa until it settles down on a twig in head down position. The pinkish cloudy patches slowly changed to white and the orange patches are getting lighter and less intense in orange.

Two days later the caterpillar shreds its skin and prepares for pupation by attaching itself with the cremaster on the twig without silkpad, but unlike many other species, it has no girdle to support the pupa.

A freshly molted pupa

Mature pupa of the Peacock royal

In the morning, few hours before the adult butterfly emerges the pupa turns darker brown

A newly eclosed Peacock Royal resting on flower stem

A newly eclosed female Peacock Royal. Inset : Upperside of the female Peacock Royal

  • The Butterflies of The Malay Peninsula, A.S. Corbet and H.M. Pendlebury, 4th Edition, Malayan Nature Society.

Text by Tan Ben Jin ; Photos by Tan BJ & Khew SK


AfricanButterflies said...

Wow - you guys are great photogs - we in Africa can learn a lot from you! This looks really like one of our Iolaus species we get in Africa - I see it is the same tribe, Iolaini.

Commander said...

Thanks, Steve. For visiting and your kind comments. Your website is awesome, and the butterflies in your part of the world are awesome! I've taken the liberty of linking your website in my links page. Cheers!