- Colour: the caterpillar (larva) is green with a hump on its upper back and small white dots over its body. The butterfly (adult) has brown or black outer wings with some white markings plus two green blotches, and green inner wings (closest to its body). The underside of each wing has the same patterning but the green parts tend to be darker. It has “tails” at the tip of each hindwing (back wing).
- Size:the caterpillar is about 4 cm long; the butterfly’s wingspan is usually 5 – 6 cm but can reach up to 8 cm.
- Diet: the caterpillar eats leaves from a range of plants including various species of Sassafras, Native Pepper trees, Camphor Laurel, and other plants in the Lauraceae and Rutaceae families. The butterfly feeds on nectar from Lantana plants and various species in the Asteraceae family, which are the daisies.
- Movement: the male butterfly defends its territory from rival males and can be seen circling treetops, descending to restlessly sip nectar from flowers.
- Flight: it flies during the warmer months and never stops for long. Its wings are always vibrating.
- Breeding: females lay pale green eggs on the young shoots of a food plant. Once the caterpillar has fully grown it forms into a pupa, which is green with yellow lines and is attached to the underside of a food-plant leaf.
What to Observe
- Presence (to establish the first and last sighting for the season)
- Egg laying
- Chrysalis (butterfly emerging from its shell)
ClimateWatch Science Advisor
We expect butterflies to appear earlier in the year as a result of climate change warming the Earth. They may also start appearing in new areas as warmer temperatures enable them to live in environments that were previously too cold for them.
When To Look
- In the warmer months, usually from August through to April.
- They appear earlier in warmer areas.
Note: ClimateWatch is looking for any changes in the timing of these events so remember to keep a lookout from July!
Where To Look
- In forests and woodlands, heath and urban areas.
- It is native to the wetter coastal and mountain areas of eastern Australia, from northern Queensland south to Victoria, and also north-eastern Tasmania.
- Look on the leaves of Native Pepper trees and plants in the Lauraceae (e.g. Camphor Laurel, Sassafras) and Rutaceae (citrus) families for caterpillars, and around Lantana and daises for butterflies. Male butterflies commonly collect around hilltops and can be seen flying above trees or spiralling up into the tree canopy.
Note: ClimateWatch is looking for any changes outside of their known ranges so remember to keep a lookout beyond these regions!
Walther G, Post E, Convey P, Menzel A, Parmesan C, Beebee TJC, Fromentin J, Hoegh-Guldberg O, and Bairlein F 2002. Ecological responses to recent climate change. Nature 416: 389–395.
Braby MF 2000. Butterflies of Australia: Their Identification, Biology and Distribution. CSIRO Publishing.
Common IFB and Waterhouse, DF 1981. Butterflies of Australia (revised edition). Angus & Robertson.
Another Swallowtail Butterfly: its wings won’t have green colouring on the undersides.
Did You Know?
It was named after the entomologist Alexander Macleay, who was chairman of the Linnean Society of London in 1814 and later founded the Macleay Museum at the University of Sydney.
It is the only swallowtail found in Tasmania.
There are two recognised subspecies: Graphium macleayanus macleayanus from Queensland and New South Wales, and Graphium macleayanus moggana from Tasmania, Victoria and parts of subalpine NSW.