Love butterflies? Host caterpillars!

Orchard Swallowtail - Nov 08

Female Orchard Swallowtail laying eggs on orange tree

By: Michael Fox

How often have you heard someone say, “We don’t see butterflies in the garden these days.”?

Female Orchard Swallowtail Papilio aegeus are laying eggs at the moment so you might find some interesting caterpillars feeding on leaves of your citrus trees.

Orchard Swallowtail - caterpillar - 30 Dec 2015 crop

Orchard Swallowtail caterpillar (early instar) on Crow’s Ash

In bushland Orchard Swallowtail butterflies will lay their eggs on Crow’s Ash Flindersia australis which, like our backyard citrus trees, is a member of the Rutaceae family. The first and second stage instars look just like brown and white bird droppings.

Orchard Swallowtail - larva Ba - Dec08

Greenish later instar with osmeterium extended




The caterpillars will grow to about 60mm and change to a greenish colour before they from a chrysalis. When disturbed Orchard Swallowtail caterpillars extend bright red osmeterium to frighten off attackers.




Orchard Swallowtail - chrysalis - 25 Dec 2015

Orchard Swallowtail chrysalis on Finger Lime


Orchard Swallowtail caterpillars will also feed on leaves of native Finger Limes Citrus australasica

Look for the silk threads suspending each chrysalis.



Orchard Swallowtail - Male - Apr10 crop

Male Orchard Swallowtail butterfly

You can welcome butterflies to your Pollinator Link garden by choosing the food plants required by their caterpillars and, importantly, avoid pesticides and instead invite insect eating birds to manage the caterpillars in your garden.

There are a number of good “eco-products” that have minimum impact on wildlife like Ladybirds and Bees. These products are only ingested by caterpillars that eat the leaves and sap-sucking insects like Common Gum Tree Shield Bug Poecilometis patruelis. You will be free of sap-suckers, however, it also means you will kill your butterfly caterpillars by starvation, carbon dioxide poisoning or dehydration.

If you have sap-sucking insects on your citrus consider simply hand picking them off – be sure to wear gloves to avoid getting the stink on your hands. Remember, chewed leaves mean more butterflies like the handsome male Orchard Swallowtail.


About Mt Gravatt Environment Group

Mt Gravatt Environment Group is restoring a unique piece of Australain native bushland only ten minutes from Brisbane CBD.
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3 Responses to Love butterflies? Host caterpillars!

  1. Pingback: Metamorphosis complete she emerges | Pollinator Link

  2. Paula Peeters says:

    I love seeing the red tentacles on these caterpillars! Entomology is often better than science fiction.

  3. Smile … I agree. I am sure the Dr Who people get a lot of their ideas from entomology. Just look at the Wattle Cup Moth caterpillar on the front of our 2016 Photography Calendar

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