22 October 2011

Life History of the Common Mormon

Life History of the Common Mormon (Papilio polytes romulus)

Butterfly Biodata:
Genus: Papilio Linnaeus, 1758
Species: polytes
Linnaeus, 1758
Subspecies: romulus
Cramer, 1775
Wingspan of Adult Butterfly: 70-85mm
Caterpillar Host Plants:
Murraya koenigii (Rutaceae, Common Name: Indian Curry Leaf), Merope angulata (Rutaceae, common name: Mangrove Lime),  Citrus maxima (Rutaceae, common name: Pomelo), Citrus aurantifolia (Rutaceae, common name: Lime) and other Citrus spp.

A female form -polytes  Common Mormon sunbathing on a leaf.

A male Common Mormon puddling in the western nature reserve.

A male Common  Mormon puddling on damp ground.

Physical Description of Adult Butterfly:
Above, the  male is black with a band of large whitish yellow spot running across the hindiwng. This band appears to continue to the forewing in the form of several white spots on the distal margin of the forewing. In Singapore, the female appears in two forms: form -polytes which mimics the Common Rose but with an entirely black abdomen; form -cyrus which resembles the male but has a red tornal spot in space 1a of the hindwing. Underneath, the male has a series of yellow to red submarginal lunules on the hindwing, while the female form -polytes  again resembling the male and  form -cyrus resembling that of the Common Rose. Both sexes have a spatulate tail at vein 4 of the hindwing.

A female form -polytes Common Mormon visiting a flower.

A female form -cyrus Common Mormon

Another puddling male Common Mormon.

Field Observations of Butterfly Behaviour: 
Common Mormon is rather common in Singapore and can be found in both forested and urban areas in Singapore. The fast flying adults visit flowers for energy intakes and the males can be found puddling on damp grounds in their habitat. In urban settings, the adults can be found in housing areas and gardens where Citrus plants are grown.

Early Stages:
The local host plants include the Indian Curry Leaf plant and various Citrus spp. One notable addition is the Mangrove Lime (Merope angulata) which was found to be utilized as larval host plant by members of the Plant Systematics group of the Department of Biological Sciences (NUS) in the recent past. The caterpillars of the Common Mime feed on the young to middle-aged leaves of the host plants.

Host plant : Citrus maxima. Left: Young leaves and mature leaves. Right: a Pomelo fruit.

A mating pair of the Common Mormon with the female giving us a full view of its upperside.

The eggs of the Common Mormon are laid singly on the young stem, the petiole or the underside of leaves of the host plant. The egg is pale creamy yellow with a finely roughened surface. It is nearly spherical with a diameter of about 1.2mm.

A mother Common Mormon about to oviposit on a lime plant.

Two views of an egg of Common Mormon, diameter: 1.2mm

Two views of a mature egg, giving a faint front view of the head of the caterpillar.

The egg takes about 3 days to mature. The young caterpillar eats its way out of the mature egg, and then proceeds to finish up the rest of the egg shell. The newly hatched has a rather spiky appearance, and an initial body length of about 3mm. It is yellowish brown dorsally and dark brown laterally.

Two views of a newly hatched 1st instar caterpillar, length: 3mm.

Two views of a 1st instar caterpillar, length: 3.6mm

In the first 4 instars, the Common Mormon caterpillars resemble bird droppings as they rest on the leaves. The resemblance in the 3rd and 4th instars are stronger with the body also assuming a slimy appearance. As the 1st instar caterpillar grows up to a length of about 5-6mm, the dorsal and dorso-lateral  whitish patch at the posterior segments become more prominent. There is a faint whitish saddle on the 3rd-4th abdominal segments. After about 3 days in 1st instar, the caterpillar moults to the next instar.

Two views of a 1st instar caterpillar, late in this stage, length: 4.8mm

The 2nd instar caterpillar has a similar appearance to the late 1st instar caterpillar except for the more distinctly white markings on the middle and posterior body segments, and traces of white on anterior segments. This instar lasts 2-3 days with the body length reaching about 10mm before the next moult.

Two views of a 2nd instar caterpillar, newly moulted, length: 5.2mm

Two views of  a 2nd instar caterpillar, late in this stage, length: 9.5mm.

The newly moulted 3rd instar caterpillar bears no drastic change in physical appearance except for more dark brown to black patches appearing on the mottled body, and the more prominent white saddle mark. This instar takes about 2.5-3 days to complete with the body length reaching up to 16mm.

Two views of a 3rd instar caterpillar, early in this stage, length: 12.5mm.

Two views of a 3rd instar caterpillar, late in this stage, length: 16mm.

The 4th instar caterpillar resembles the late 3rd instar caterpillar initially but with a more slimy appearance and stronger green undertone. As growth proceeds, the cryptic markings of light to dark green intermingled with white streaks becomes increasing mottled. This instar lasts about 2-3 days with body length reaching about 25-26mm.

A 3rd (left) and  a 4th (right)  instar caterpillar found on a Lime plant in a garden.

Two views of a 4th instar caterpillar, early in this stage, length: 21mm.

Two views of a 4th instar caterpillar, late in this stage, length: 26mm

The next moult brings the caterpillar to its 5th and final instar with a drastic change in appearance.  After the moult to 5th instar, the body ground color is initially mottled green, but this changes gradually to the characteristic smooth green color after 1 day.

Two views of a 5th instar caterpillar, early in this stage, length: 30mm.

Two views of a 5th instar caterpillar,  length: 36mm

The eye spots on the 3rd thoracic segment are connected by a transverse green dorsal band with sinuous markings. A similar band occurs between the 3rd thoracic and the 1st abdominal segments, and features pale purplish bluish gaps between the sinuous markings. The first oblique bars, one on each side, run from the base of abdominal segment 3 to the top of segment 4. The second oblique bars is much shorter and occur at the two sides of abdominal segment 5.

Two views of a 5th instar caterpillar, late in this stage, length: 45mm

As in the case of all Swallowtail butterflies, the Common Mormon caterpillars in all instars possess a fleshy organ called osmeterium in the prothoracic segment. Usually hidden, the osmeterium can be everted to emit a foul-smelling secretion when the caterpillar is threatened.

A Common Mormon caterpillar everting its osmeterium.

The 5th instar lasts for 5-6 days, and the body length reaches up to 45-46mm. Toward the end of this instar, the body gradually shortens in length. Eventually the caterpillar comes to rest on the lower surface of a stem and becomes a pre-pupatory larva.

A pre-pupatory larva of the Common Mormon.

A Common Mormon caterpillar molts to its pupal stage.

Pupation takes place a day later. The pupa suspends itself with a silk girdle from the stem. There are two color forms. In the green form, the pupa is is mainly green with a large yellowish diamond-shaped on the dorsum of the abdominal segments..  In the brown form, the pupa is manly greyish to darker shades of brown. Each pupa has a pair of  cephalic horns, a dorsal thoracic hump and is angled in side view. Length of pupae: 31-32mm.

Two views of a Common Mormon pupa.

A mature pupa of the Common Mormon.

After 8   days of development, the pupa turns black as the development within the pupal case comes to an end. The next day the adult butterfly emerges from the pupal case. The beautiful undersides of its wings are fully displayed as it dries its wings for the first few hours after eclosion.

A newly eclosed female Common Mormon clinging on to its empty pupal case

A newly eclosed male Common Mormon resting near its empty pupal case

  • [C&P4] The Butterflies of The Malay Peninsula, A.S. Corbet and H.M. Pendlebury, 4th Edition, Malayan Nature Society.
  • Butterflies of Thailand, Pisuth Ek-Amnuay, 2nd Edition, 2012.
  • A Field Guide to the Butterflies of Singapore, Khew S.K., Ink On Paper Communications, 2010.

Text by Horace Tan, Photos by Benjamin Yam, James Chia, Benedict Tay,  Ellen Tan, Nelson Ong,  Bobby Mun, Anthony Wong, Federick Ho, Sunny Chir and Horace Tan


alosh said...

Thank you very much for your wonderful article. We recently got 5 common mormon caterpillars and they all hatched into beautiful butterflies. This blog post was our guide - consulting it every day to figure out where we were in the process.
Thanks again!

Horace said...

Hi alosh,
You are welcome.
Congrats for your success in breeding the Common Mormon. :)
I am glad that our blog article has been put to good use in your breeding effort.

Unknown said...

I am from India. Thank you very much for the wonderful documentation. Recently we found many common mormon caterpillars on our curry leaf tree, two of which transformed into beautiful butterflies. This documentation helped us a lot while taking care of those caterpillars. Keep up the good work!

Horace said...

Hi Bhalchandra,
Thank you for the kind words. We are glad that our blog article has been useful in your breeding effort of this beautiful species. :)

Wenzel Pinto said...

Hey horace,
I recently spotted a common mormon laying an egg on a curry plant leaf. I really want to document it's growth from egg to butterfly, but I fear that it might be eaten by birds before it matures enough. Should I move the caterpillar (once it hatches) into a jar?

Horace said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

First of all, thanks a lot for such a wonderful documentation!

I had a few questions regarding the transformation of Common Mormon butterfly. We had found many larvae of this species on our curry leaf tree. Two of them transformed into beautiful females- form cyrus and form stichius. Both of these had green pupae and were hatched before the dry season began.

But currently we have a pupa which is brown in form. The dry season has now begun and this particular caterpillar took a very long time to transform into the 5th instar. In the fourth instar, when the temperature had fallen, the caterpillar had become very slow and was not eating anything. So I had kept it in a warm place, after which it became active again. So, is the change in season, the reason behind the slowing down of its growth and different coloration of the pupa?

Horace said...

Yes, the change of season and corresponding change in ambient temperature could affect the pace of growth of caterpillars.
The coloration of the pupa is more variable, with conventional thinking being that the colour is adaptable to the surrounding (leafy or not so leafy, on brown/green stem etc). But there are always exceptions to this rule.

Unknown said...

Hi Horace,

This is the most informative post I've found on the Common Mormon, thanks!

I am babysitting my friend's Mormon pupa (she's on holiday) and it has been black for a while. It pupated on 7 Dec, and has been black since 12 Dec. The post here says it should emerge around 8-9 days after pupating, but do some caterpillars take a much longer time?

We are worried that the pupa might have kicked the bucket. How long should we wait? Is there any way of telling without cutting apart the chrysalis as some websites suggest?


Horace said...

Some caterpillars might take a longer time especially in cooler climate. 8-9 days's duration is assuming the tropical climate in Singapore.
Turning black after 5 days is a bit too soon, hopefully it has not gone "bad". You just have to wait several more days. If it starts to mould over then its death would be confirmed.

Unknown said...

Ok thanks! Keeping a close look out for mould.

Unknown said...

Thank you for this lovely article. Wishing you all happy new year 2016.

Friend from India
Shibalik Choudhury

Horace said...

Thanks for your support, Shibalik. :)
Wishing you a very happy New Year too.

Asif Ali Khan said...

Nice article and good work Horace. I am from India and I referred your article while taking care of common Mormon caterpillars on my lemon plant. I lost some caterpillars to predators but was also fortune to see 2 male butterflies coming out of chreysalis. Yesterday only I counted some 15 more caterpillars on the plant. Hoping to see all of them converting into beautiful butterflies.

kmum said...

Hi... The "cocoon" has actually been there for abt 1 month. Is it a definite death? Cuz we didnt see any butterfly emerging ...

Horace said...

Any colour change of the pupa? The pupa could be either parasited or overwintering. If it is the former, then some parasitoid flies or wasps would emerge eventually. If it is the latter, then waiting is all you can do.

One other possibility is that the pupa might have `died'

Lavish Nails said...

I have 2 pupa now, a green and a brown. Any difference in the 2?

Soumya Thomas said...

Thanks a lot for this brilliant documentation. We have a pupa now which is almost black. Hope it hatches well. What worries me is he is not attached to any branch, its on the floor of the butterfly jar.

Soumya Thomas said...

Thanks a lot for this brilliant documentation. We have a pupa now which is almost black. Hope it hatches well. What worries me is he is not attached to any branch, its on the floor of the butterfly jar.

Horace said...

You could try to secure it by glueing the cremastral end to a stick (or any any vertical surface).
Hope that the butterfly will emerge properly from that pupa. :)

DiLa said...

Hi there! Thanx for posting such an informative website on Papilio polytes romulus..i wonder how do we feed it after it hatched? Some diluted honey perhaps?

hitaishi said...

Hey thanks sor the great info. about mormons. Last week 2 mormons were developed by mom n it was fun watching the developments. Now when I come across this article, it is giving a good feel that we had done it right.

Horace said...

It is great to learn that this article has been useful to you.
and that you have enjoyed the breeding experience of the Common Mormon. :)

Preethy said...

I have a common mormon caterpillar in the 5th stage in my garden... on a lemon plant whose leaves it has eaten. Would it survive if i moved it to a curry leaf plant? Or does it only eat lemon leaves?

Horace said...

Curry leaf plant is also known to be a larval food plant for the Common Mormon. But it is hard to say for sure whether an individual caterpillar will survive from a switch of food source. To play safe, switch only as a last resort if you really do not have access to lemon leaves.

Unknown said...

Wow really helped! I'm a kid and i was really curious about these bird-dung-like caterpillars. i had 3 experiences with this common mormon caterpillar. the third one is going to be a success the caterpillars are in the pupae stage by yesterday(day before the day i posted this)! Tks Horace for providing me this info! It really helped! those butterflies are pretty!

Horace said...

You are welcome, ThunderBugGT. :)
Congrats for your successful breeding experience of the Common Mormon caterpillars.

Unknown said...

Thanks for such valuable information on butterflies and their life cycle. I recently took and nurtured 2 caterpillars (found on lime plant and I thought they were lime caterpillars). Turned out to be common mormons.
What astounded me was one of the pupa after 1 day turned from green to brown. As days gone by it looked more and more withered and shrunkened. So I thought it'd died. I left it alone with the other green pupa. To my amazement/joy a healthy butterfly emerged from this pupa as well. Are pupae of same species ever so vastly different in colour and texture? Thanks.

Horace said...

Hi Mr Chua,
Thank you for sharing your experience with the caterpillars and pupae of the Common Mormon. A brown pupa for the Common Mormon is not unexpected as Papilio species are known to have pupae of green and brown forms. It is great that you managed to see both forms in the same sample set. :)

Salina Maharjan said...

First of all I would like to thank for this wonderful information about the butterfly.I am a student from Nepal. Recently, I found two larvae of Lime butterfly on a Lime plant at our college garden. I confirmed them to be 3rd and 5th instar larvae after reading this article. I am rearing them simply in plastic bottles separately. I am eager to see them turning to beautiful butterflies. I am using this article as a reference. So, thank you once again.

Rajib said...

Dear Horace Sir,
For common mormon how many color types pupa we get from nature? Here you have describe two types; one is greenish and another one is brown.

Unknown said...

Dear Mr Horace,
My common mormon caterpillars are not eating the lime leaves anymore. What should I do?

Horace said...

It is hard to advise without knowing more about the caterpillar's stage of development. Maybe the lime leaves are no longer fresh and need to be changed? Maybe the caterpillars are simply done with their food intake and ready to pupate?

Unknown said...

Thanks! Mr horace

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Where can i find lime plants in Singapore?

Unknown said...

I've run out of lemon leaves to feed mine, its in its early 5th instar (not 100% sure whether its early or late) and today it has only ate half of what it usually consumes in a day (since the last lemon sapling I had ran out of leaves) I tried feeding it kalamnsi leaves ( which belongs to the citrus family) but they are not fresh since I got them from the kalamnsi fruits stored in our fridge; It took a big bite out from one of the leaves (ate nearly half of it) then left it alone and the rest of the pile. It has been very inactive and has been moving rather slow/sluggish. I am worried that its hungry but I got nothing else to give it. I am not sure how to acquire leaves from the host plants listed immediately since they don't exactly sell conveniently packed leaves; I could order dwarf lemon trees online but delivery would take a week or so before they arrive. Best I can find in supermarkets are fruits with leaves attach with them but I assume that it won't be enough to satiate my caterpillar. I need some help, its my first caterpillar ever, its so close to pupation and aside from that I didn't want to let all the lemon saplings from my garden to go to waste.(which is also the first lemons I've ever planted)

Unknown said...

I am having a mormonMcaterpillar and it is hanging since last night so how much time it will take to form a pupa

Adiga said...

Very nice article. In my garden, caterpillar came to prepupal stage on 28 th august...still butterfly does not emerge..

Unknown said...

Can i put 5th and 4th instar together.

Unknown said...

Hi Everyone, I've got at Common Mormon in it's pupa, but its been over 8 days now, actually it has been almost 2 weeks. Does this mean he has perhaps died or is he just a late bloomer. He is still then same green as when he turned into a pupa, and no color has changed. Hoping for an answer.
Cheers Meg

Unknown said...

Is there any way to prevent the eggs from getting infected from mold? It seems that the eggs from this species get infected by mold, easily. Majority of the eggs seem to get infected, too few eggs hatch.

Would it be better if the freshly hatched eggs be removed (by cutting the lime plant's leaf that the egg is on), and placed in an air-tight container? If yes, other than constantly checking if the eggs have hatched, is there any other things that need to be done to care for the egg (e.g. putting in fresh leaves)?

Unknown said...

Dear Horace sir I have a doubt that pupa has died.Today is its 7th day.but there is no colour change.how can i recognize he is alive?

Unknown said...

When do the wasps lay egg in them and how to protect them.

Unknown said...

Hi! Thank you for this wonderful blog post. I have been watching over a caterpillar my curry plant for the pat couple of days, and your blog finally helped me identify it! The caterpillar moulted today and and is now in it's 5th instar! Thanks again for the wonderful guide!

Eranda said...

I have a common mormon 2nd instar larvae thats been like that for 5 days now, hasn't molted to 3rd instar, any reason for this. He is feeding.

Horace said...

5 days is a bit long for 2nd instar. The larva might have a growth development anomaly. Keep your fingers crossed and hope that it will moult soon.

Eunice Tan said...

Hi Author,
Thank you for the great info. This article has been a great help for me to identify the caterpillars between lime butterfly and common mormon found on my citrus plant. Thank you so much~!!

Missmybutterfly said...

Hi Horace, thanks for keeping this forum open for so many years. I have a brown pupa (probably common mormon) now that fell to the bottom of the jar. I read an earlier comment that i can try to glue it to a vertical surface, but when i touched the pupa it twitched and I'm afraid of damaging it by accident. Should i persist in glueing it or leave it on the bottom and hope for the best?
I recently had a lime butterfly fall to the floor when it hatched and it ended up disabled with crinkled wings, so I'm a little traumatised.

Priya Suresh said...

Hey! This has bean an amazing guide throughout my journey! We had two common Mormon eggs and both of them transformed into beautiful males! Your blog has been very helpful in tracking their growth! Cheers

Unknown said...

Such a detailed explanation of this beautiful process. Thank you!

Kalyani Kalkate said...

Its really awesome & helpful post... I have one pupa i observed it from egg statge.. but the duration of life stages were mismatch.. the photographs shown by u are similar with my observations. Now that caterpillar reach in pupal stage but from 1 month the pupa is still green & butterfly not emerge yet.. please can u say reason behind it or sugest any? I search for it many but i cant get anything about it.. then i got ur article it's really super.. plz help

Rahul Chavan said...

I found a prepupa yesterday morning, next to tea shop fallen near a tree I took it and kept in a fruit paper box with some dirt and curry leaves this morning it turned into a pupa and I think pupa alright and doing fine I want to know is it ok if keep the pupa in the paper box,

Unknown said...

I found this common Mormon caterpillar on my lemon plant. I kept it in box since most were eaten by birds. But it's not eating any leaves. Please suggest what to do??

Unknown said...

Ideally a pupa should be hanging upside down horizontally or vertically. This is important when a butterfly emerges otherwise the wings will be deformed.

Unknown said...

Thank you so much for this article. I saw a butterfly flying over my balcony and two weeks later discovered three caterpillars on my baby lemon tree. Thanks to your pictures, I was able to identify their stage and now they all turned green overnight. But my lemon tree is very small and there are no more baby leaves; only older hard leaves. And they don't seem to be able to bite into it. Should I help to feed with some leaves from my other lemon tree? Very fascinating to watch the transformation.

Unknown said...

My butterfly had just emerged this morning! But right till now, 5 hours has passed, its wings are still not spread. Could it be because it is emerged on the ground, not hanging on a branch? Or maybe due to the rainy weather these days? I am worried it will starve. I held a drop of sugar water near it but it showed no interest.

Unknown said...

My common mormon not eating curry leaves what to do

Unknown said...

Thank you so much for this informative article..im experiencing an excitement as have one pupa of Common Mormon butterfly...waiting for the D day

Shruti said...

Why air tight container? My caterpillar just turned into pupa today so should I put it in a jar?

Shruti said...

My caterpillar just turned into pupa today. Should I move it into jar? And why should I use air tight container

Horace said...

My bad. I didn't mean it to be totally airtight (no air get in or out). What I meant to say was to make sure that the cover is closed properly.

Paper Bag said...

My butterfly emerged and has not flown away, there is also no sunlight from where I am, what should I do?

Unknown said...

Hi..I found a larva which had just hatched and was feeding on its egg shell, is it safe to take it inside and rear it when it is so young?

SLLiew said...

Hi, I received my first two caterpillars, Common Mormon, in their 5th instar. Now looking forward for their pupa stage and eventual emergence (eclosing). Your post is so informative and helpful. I really enjoyed reading and re-reading them to appreciate this butterfly life cycle. Thank you for sharing. Cheers from newbie in Penang Island. SL Liew

Unknown said...

Hey I to found a caterpillar it became a cocoon and after it became a butterfly but it got crippled and broken wings what can I do

Denise said...

Hello from Hong Kong, Horace! We've been raising common mormons for 3 years now with our young kids and have referred to this article every time! Just noticed that it was written in 2011... AMAZING - Thanks for such a wonderful resource that has continued educating for over a decade! ❤️

Mirae .D said...

Hi! How do you tell the difference between a lime caterpillar and a common Mormon caterpillar?

Dead_Grave said...

Hi, my common mormon pupated yesterday and today it looks brown is there any issue or it's just fine??

Dead_Grave said...

Hi please let me know what happened, i also have one pupa that turned brown the very next day...

shiva said...

Thank you sir for the information