Dainty Swallowtail Butterflies
A Dainty Visitor Loves Your Lemons!
The Dainty Swallowtail Butterfly is also known as the Dingy Swallowtail or Small Citrus Butterfly - but it isn't dingy at all! You'll see these stunning butterflies in flight right up until May.
Adult Dainty Swallowtails are a lovely sight to see. Look out for them near citrus plants. They are black with grey, white, and smaller blue and red spots on their wings, and yellow markings along their bodies. The female's wingspan is up to 7.2 cm while the male is slightly smaller, with his growing up to 6.7 cm.
This gorgeous butterfly can be attracted to any garden within its range by planting caterpillar food plants such as native and introduced citrus. Adult females will only lay their eggs on new growth.
The male patrols his territory around a food plant - a serious duty masked by his graceful, carefree and dainty flight. Their flight is often slow and lazy, but they can take off in a great hurry if disturbed.
The caterpillars of the Dainty Swallowtail are blue-black in colour, with two rows of yellow-orange spots on its side and many small pale blue or white spots. It has two rows of short spines that are not dangerous or poisonous along its back.
To protect themselves from predators, the caterpillars extend a bright red-orange forked organ from behind their heads called an 'osmeterium'. It emits strong and stinky chemicals smelling of citrus to deter many creatures that would otherwise make a tasty snack of an unprotected caterpillar.
When the caterpillar is about 3.5 to 4 cm long and has munched enough citrus leaves, soft new growth, and the occasional flower and bud, it turns green with orange-yellow spots on its back and some small scattered pale blue and white spots.
Next the caterpillar creates a grey or brown pupa with green patches - these look like the citrus bark onto which they are fixed, so they are camouflaged remarkably well.
During summer it takes about two weeks for the butterfly to emerge from the pupa. During autumn it takes four weeks for the butterfly to emerge, but often these pupas stay dormant over winter and the butterflies don't emerge until spring.
These butterflies are thought to live all over Australia, but are more common in the eastern states. Its range is spreading because of the expansion of citrus orchards.
DID YOU KNOW?
Dainty Swallowtail Butterflies are the smallest swallowtail butterflies in Australia.
Plant Native Finger Lime Citrus australasica, Native Lime Citrus garrawayae or Desert Lime Citrus glauca as these attract Dainty Swallowtail Butterflies, as well as Capaneus Swallowtail, Orchard Swallowtail and Ambrax Swallowtail Butterflies. They just love citrus, but they definitely don't like pesticides or chemicals so avoid using them in your garden.