Saturday, 18 February 2017

A spectacular garden butterfly

Tailed Emperor Polyura sempronius

This magnificent butterfly was just outside our house yesterday, well it emerged yesterday, but as a caterpillar it had been in the garden for long before that. I never knew.

Hiding in the leaf litter at the side of the yard

I noticed it as it fluttered away from me when I was in the yard, and I could tell it had only recently emerged from its chrysalis as it was weak, only scuttling across the ground and into the leaf litter lying at the base of a wall. It looked so vulnerable as there are lots of birds in our garden and it would have been easy prey if any found it. So, as it was evening I took it inside for the night, lifting it by the feet, careful not to damage its scales. It was in lovely fresh condition.

In the evening I did a bit of research.

The splendid double tail on each of the hindwings - with lovely fresh margins and scales

After a good night's sleep I took it back into the yard and offered it a split grape or a chunk of pineapple for breakfast. It chose the pineapple, well these butterflies love their fructose. After a good long sip of juice it began to shiver to warm itself up. The sun was still hidden behind some trees.

Pineapple for breakfast

Then when the sunshine came through, I popped it onto the sunny side of the tree which it had been living on when a caterpillar, a Persian Silk Tree Albizia julibrissin. It immediately lined itself up so that its back was warmed by the sun through a thin gap between its closed wings. The previous night had been cold, so it took an hour or so of sunshine to warm up and begin to shuffle about. Every now and then, it shifted slightly to stay aligned with the sun.

Lined up to capture the sun's heat on its back

While I was waiting for the butterfly to take off safely, I kept close by, keeping potential predators away, and I had a bit of look through the branches of the Silk Tree. Sure enough, I found lots of nibbled leaves, and a recently emptied chrysalis.

Tailed Emperor habitat - the Silk Tree is above and left of the table

The chrysalis was like the tiny beginnings of a wasp nest, except that it was not paper, but keratin I suppose, and see-through as it was empty. I couldn't find any others, nor any caterpillars. I shall go out for a look after dark.

The chrysalis it emerged from, hanging empty from a small branchlet of the Silk Tree
- attached by a tiny silk button

Meanwhile, as the butterfly was keeping so still I took lots of photographs. I sent a set of shots to Suzi Bond, our local butterfly person and it was she who identified it as a female by her white abdomen and large size, with a wingspan of over 80 mm.

Her gorgeous face - her eyes had a black pearl effect, her proboscis was curled tight into her 'fur' and her labial palpi, a pair of  olfactory sensory organs, pointed up like a snooty nose

That was a very pleasant morning. I had learned a lot, and taken some curious shots of the butterfly, her face and wing pattern.

On recall, during the waiting, I had seen the leaves eaten in previous years, even found a spectacular green, horned caterpillar beneath the tree before, but I had not found time to identify it properly.

I left her to sun herself on her larval food tree, but once warm enough, she fluttered down to the ground and sat there motionless in the leaf litter. She obviously felt safer there where she was camouflaged.
I had found her in her favoured resting habitat.
 I'll watch the Silk Tree more thoroughly in future, and the ground below.

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