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Butterflies on the move

The migratory flight of the Blue Tiger Butterfly (Tirumala Hamata) is currently underway. Photo Kath Vail.

Story & image Kath Vail

Recent rainfall was the trigger for the flight of the Blue Tiger Butterfly (Tirumala Hamata) that is currently migrating down the north-east coast of Australia from north Queensland.

The Blue Tiger Butterfly has numerous pale blue streaks and elongated spots on its wings. They fly with a gliding, sailing flight about one to two metres above the ground, especially on or near a beach.

During times like the recent drought, females stop breeding and adults congregate in large numbers along the north-east coast of Australia. They aggregate (group) together in large numbers in sandy gullies or creek banks where they rest on branches or dead twigs in shade close to the ground.

It is after rainfall events in spring and summer that the adults disperse and migrate and head down the coast. This allows them to take advantage of the new foliage of their larval food plant Secamone elliptica, commonly known as the corky milk vine that is found in monsoon forest and littoral rainforest. The larvae rely on the new shoots of the vine, because they are soft and easy to chew. The black and white banded larvae also absorb a number of poisonous chemicals called Pyrrolizidine Alkaloids (PAs) from the corky milk vine that get passed on through the pupae phase to the adult butterflies. This provides them with protection from birds and other  vertebrate predators, as it has a very bitter taste and the predators  learn to avoid the Blue Tiger Butterfly. As they become butterflies they can also imbibe PAs from a number of plants to top up their protection.

Flutterings of passion

The adult male butterflies are strongly attracted to the PAs that are also found in the Parsonsia vine, known as common silkpod or monkey rope. The male will scratch the leaves to release the sap which they imbibe, and then they convert this complex organic compound into sex pheromones.

Courtship for the Blue Tiger Butterflies includes extensive use of hair pencils that are located at the tip of the male’s abdomen. It is quite rare in nature to see the hair pencil display, however it involves the hair pencils being charged with perfume from scent pouches on the upside of the wing. The male then erects these hair pencils and dusts the female with the pheromones.

The Blue Tiger Butterfly will be migrating for approximately another week down the coast. As they have a long life-span for a butterfly, of up to six months, when the cooler months of April and May arrive, they can be seen migrating north again where they congregate in central and northern Queensland.

It is important to plant both the  corky milk vine and the Parsonsia vine together if you want to provide the most benefit to the Blue Tiger Butterfly.


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20 responses to “Butterflies on the move”

  1. Roberta Gordon says:

    Thank you for your Blue tiger butterfly article facts .Just rode through a thick swarm of them from Noosa to Peregian beach and careful to keep my mouth shut .
    A nice diversion riding out with nature while the virus restrictions on.
    Cheers Roberta Gordon

  2. Judy O'Neil says:

    Yes! Thousands of them flying by Perigean Beach and alighting on flowering tree nearby! Absolutely beautiful….and indeed a welcome distraction from COVID news etc!

  3. Jo Edwards says:

    Hello
    We are loving these beautiful butterflies as they fly over our house at Sunrise Beach. We have noticed that they congregate in their thousands in a small tree in our garden. It has shiny , green ‘droopy’ leaves and a profusion of yellow flower clusters. I wonder if you know what it might be?
    Thank you, Jo

  4. Jan says:

    Yes lots of blue tiger butterflies feeding from a yellow flowering tree at Marcoola. Does anyone know the name of the tree?

  5. Rosalind Edgar says:

    I confirm Roberta’s observation that they are thick in the air at Noosa, but that they appear to be heading northwards. Any reason, as you say that they are heading south from north qld.

  6. Stuart says:

    So important to allow vines to grow? I assume

  7. Margaret Elliott says:

    We have been enthralled watching hundreds of these beautiful butterflies flying north past our upper deck at Caloundra over the past few days. They are a lovely symbol of hope and peace In these awful days. Thank you Kath for your wonderful description of their migration..
    Margaret Elliott

  8. Meg Nielsen says:

    They arrived here in the Bentley hills in the last week or so. Previous years they’ve been a rare occasional sighting but we have so many lately…such a joy: They’re mainly hanging out with the Lesser Wanderers around our ground covering verbenas. We are also enjoying lots of Grass Yellows, Richmond Birdwing, Orchards, Crows, Golden Wanderers, Jezabels…

  9. Meg Nielsen says:

    Can anyone tell me where we can buy these vines Corky Milk Vine Secamone elliptica & Parsonsia vine, please?

  10. Ursula says:

    There are many of these butterflies in my Toowoomba garden. I don’t have the correct plants. Do they eat anything else? They seem quite happy & healthy

  11. Sally Kellas says:

    Thank you for the information l live at Agnes Water and have enjoyed hundreds of these lovely butterflies over the past few weeks.
    I have lived in Queensland almost 3 years and it’s a delight to learn about your wonderful nature. Thank you.Sally.

  12. Frances Beckham says:

    We too have been experiencing the migration of the Blue Tiger Butterflys near Lake Cooroibah Old I wondered if it had something to do with the weather conditions or the previous Bush Fires then a lot of rain as we have never noticed them in such great numbers.

  13. Karen Johnson says:

    What a beautiful site to see this migrstion of the Blue Tiger Butterflies. I have lived in Bargara Qld for 22 years and have been delighted to watch and see their migration most years. It’s such a pretty display. I just love estching them. Thankyou for the above information.

  14. Elmarie says:

    Saw a blue tiger butterfly this morning at Sapphire Beach close to Coffs. First time I’ve seen this beauty in our neighbourhood but it may be that the recent bushfires has forced them closer to the coast to rainforest pockets which escaped?

  15. Stephanie says:

    Is mid April and seeing several of the Blue Tigers here in Rosebank, Northern NSW. They must be heading north again.

  16. Amanda Jane Beech says:

    Thousands moving north yesterday 20.4.20 on the Gold Coast sighted in southern Southport. A visual I’ll never forget.

  17. Mike says:

    Great article. They are also flying around the southern Moreton Bay Islands.

  18. Maggie says:

    Wonderful to see so many on my morning beach walks in Kirra on their way north again,stunning looking insect.

  19. Toni says:

    Still seeing plenty of these guys in Brisbane city!

  20. Sue Shannon says:

    Thank you for your article and all the details about this amazing migration. They have been flying along the beachfront at Mission Beach, Far North Queensland, for the past 3 days in the morning flying south. Not huge numbers but consistently.

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