01 April 2008

Life History of the Lime Butterfly

Life History of the Lime Butterfly (Papilio demoleus malayanus)

An updated version of the life history of the Lime Butterfly is available by clicking on this link.

Butterfly Biodata :

Genus : Papilio (Linnaeus, 1758)
Species : demoleus (Linnaeus, 1758)
Subspecies : malayanus (Wallace,1865)
Common name : Lime Butterfly
Wingspan of Adult Butterfly : 60 – 80mm
Caterpillar Host Plant : Citrus microcarpa

Physical Description of Adult Butterfly :

On the upperside, the wings of the Lime Butterfly are black with large yellow markings. These form an irregular macular fascia running from the apex of the forewing to the mid-dorsum on the hindwing, and there is a series of yellow submarginal spots on both wings. At the bottom of the hindwing (space 1b) is a red spot with an anterior narrow blue lunule. As for the female, this blue lunule forms the anterior portion of a large black circular spot above the red spot. The underside is predominantly yellow with a series of reddish post-discal bars on the hindwing.

Field Observations of Butterfly Behaviour :

This butterfly is common in gardens wherever the host plants of the species, Citrus spp. are cultivated. It is a strong flyer with a rapid erratic flight. It flies from flower to flower in search of nectar. Like many Papilionidae it has a characteristic flight when feeding, in that whilst the forewings are flapping rapidly, the hindwings are held almost stationary as if to balance the butterfly perched on a flower as it sucks nectar from the flower with its long proboscis.

In the cool morning hours, the Lime Butterfly may be found resting amongst shrubbery, sunbathing with its wings opened flat, as if to warm up before taking flight and going about the day's business.

An interesting phenomenon, particularly in the more affluent Asian countries, is that during the Lunar New Year celebrations, the Lime Butterfly appears to be more common than usual, due to the discarded Citrus plants which are traditionally purchased with the orange fruits ripened, to signify wealth during this Chinese festival. With the abundance of its host plant during this season, the female Lime Butterfly will waste no time ovipositing on the available host plants.

Early Stages :

The eggs are oviposited singly on the young leaves of the Citrus host plant. The egg is smooth, round and yellowish in colour, measuring around 1mm in diameter.

The egg of Lime Butterfly

After about 3-4 days, the caterpillar hatches from the egg, and immediately starts to consume the eggshell completely. The caterpillar then starts to eat the young leaf that the egg was laid upon.

The 1st instar caterpillar has a spiky appearance. The colour of its body is brown with yellowish-white markings with white hairs. As it feeds, the caterpillar usually stays in the middle of the upper side of the leaf. The first few instars of the caterpillar resemble bird droppings where it escapes predation by camouflaging itself in this manner.

1st instar Lime Butterfly caterpillar (3mm) consuming its eggshell upon hatching

As it moults into the 2nd instar, the dirty greenish-brown colour of its body remains similar as the 1st instar except that the saddle white band has widened somewhat. The hairy spikes of the 1st instar now take a more solid rubbery appearance.

2nd instar Lime Butterfly caterpillar (8mm)

In the 3rd instar is essentially similarly patterned as the 2nd instar. The colour of its body becomes richer, with white patches appearing near its head and last abdominal segments. It has an oily glossy appearance.

3rd instar Lime butterfly caterpillar (14mm)
In the 4th instar caterpillar, more whites patches appear throughout its body, dominating the earlier brown colour. The head also appears lighter in colour.

4th instar Lime butterfly caterpillar (25mm)

In the 5th or final instar, the caterpillar becomes a plain uniform green with a few dark brown markings. It has a pair of false "eyes" near its actual head, appearing much larger and fiercer to ward off predators. Also, when disturbed the caterpillar extrudes a pair of orange-yellow processes from the segment just behind the head, known as osmeterium, to alarm would-be predators.

Final instar Lime butterfly caterpillar (40mm)

After a total of 11 days upon hatching from the egg, the caterpillar then goes into a day of dormant pre-pupation pose after carefully selecting a perch onto which it can pupate upright.

Pre-pupa of the Lime butterfly

The pupa is light green with two projections to the front on its head and also one on its thorax. The abdominal segments are a bright lime green as opposed to the toned down green of the rest of the pupa. A silken girdle helps the pupa stay in an upward position.

Pupa of the Lime Butterfly (10x30mm)

After about 10 days, the pupa shell turns transparent and the wings of the butterfly can be seen through the semi-transparent pupa shell.

Upon eclosion, the adult butterfly emerges and hangs its wings out to dry, as it pumps fluids into the wings to expand them. When its wings are sufficiently dry and hardened, usually after about an hour or more, it takes its maiden flight.

Adult Lime Butterfly (underside view)

Adult Lime Butterfly (upperside view)

Text by LC Goh ; Edited by Khew SK ; Photos by LC Goh, Tan BJ and Neo CB.


chan said...

Thanks for your post.

Commander said...

You're most welcome! Hope your kids found this useful in their project.

Mr Koh said...

Hi, you have the prettiest pictures of the lovely lime butterfly. Your writeup was most informative. I have some stories of limebutterfly and picture to share, not as professionally done as yours.

RWS said...

Good job on the detailed write up.

Similar photo of Lime Butterfly

QinEunMun said...

Hi, thanks for the concise writeup. I was searching high and low for the species name of this particular butterfly. A few weeks ago i caught 3 caterpillars from our mandarin tree. All 3 have successfully morphed into chrysallis and butterfly. i even managed to video the process of the butterfly "hatching" out of the chrysalis. Amazing!!

Horace said...

Congrats for your success in breeding this species. :)
We can fully understand your joy in witnessing the eclosion event.

Janice Ho said...

Hi. My pupa is 10 days old already, and yes, im still waiting for it to turn transparent and open up. But itll be sad watching it go D: BTW, i want to ask, why will the shit of the caterpillar become like err .... it has like some weird black dots hanging in mid air but it is actually from the shit. I dunno what that is, so i have to ask from a pro. BTWBTWBTW, your description is so detailed. Love your blog. Loveyour description. And thanks alot for it :DDD

Commander said...

Black dots? Do you have a picture of what you are describing? :)

low said...

My pupa turned brown! Is it dead? The other pupa dropped to the base of the container. Will it still turn into a butterfly? Thanks.

Commander said...

Some pupae of the Lime Butterfly are brown, so just keep an eye on it. The one that dropped down may not survive. Try to keep it upright by making a small paper cone and slip the backside in. Hopefully, the butterfly can climb out properly.

Good luck! :)