Macleay's Swallowtail David Cook/Flickr

Macleay's Swallowtail

Graphium macleayanus

Did You Know?

  • It is the only swallowtail found in Tasmania
  • Named after entomologist Alexander Macleay, chairman of the Linnean Society of London in 1814 and later founded the Macleay Museum at the University of Sydney
FactBox Image

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.

There are two recognised subspecies Graphium macleayanus macleayanus from Queensland and NSW, and Graphium macleayanus moggana from Tasmania, Victoria and parts of subalpine NSW.

Size

Caterpillar 4 cm long; Butterfly wingspan 5 – 6 cm (can reach up to 8 cm).

Behaviour

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.

Species: WhatToObserve Image

What to Observe

  • Presence (to establish the first and last sighting for the season)

  • Courting/Mating

  • Egg laying

  • Chrysalis (butterfly emerging from its shell)

Species: WhenAndWhere Image

When and Where

When To Look

In the warmer months, usually from August through to April. They appear earlier in warmer areas.

Where To Look

  • Eastern Australia, from northern Queensland south to Victoria, and also north-eastern Tasmania
  • Native to wetter coastal and mountain areas
  • In forests and woodlands, heath and urban areas
  • 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
Species: WhatElse Image

What Else?

Similar Species

Another swallowtail butterfly won’t have green colouring on the undersides of its wings.