Butterflies are reappearing

Butterflies are very slowly reappearing after their Winter absence. Until today, we had caught only occasional glimpses of coloured wings passing by.

The butterfly today, however, was doing much more than simply passing through.

Vanessa kershawi  female, ovipositing on the underside of low-growing leaves. The larvae feed on a variety of Asteraceae species, such as this Cudweed  Gamochaeta coarctata.

Vanessa kershawi female, ovipositing on the underside of low-growing leaves. The larvae feed on a variety of Asteraceae species, such as this Cudweed Gamochaeta coarctata.

Vanessa kershawi (Australian Painted Lady) butterflies are numerous throughout Summer. But today the only butterfly in sight was this single female, busily depositing eggs on the underside of daisy leaves.


The sudden reappearance of butterflies raises the question of where they all go during Winter.

In our climate, many adult butterflies die at the end of Summer. The population then overwinters as eggs, larvae or pupae. The Imperial Hairstreak butterflies are an example - the eggs are laid in clusters in late Summer and then hatch in Spring. (see our earlier post, The life of the Imperial Hairstreak)

However, some butterflies migrate ...

Vanessa butterflies are capable of extraordinary migrations - even crossing oceans! Intriguingly, the first two butterflies we have seen this season were both in this genus: Vanessa kershawi (Australian Painted Lady) and Vanessa itea (Australian Admiral).

I would be surprised, however, if the female we saw today is very old or has travelled very far. Her wings look in near perfect condition ... not at all how I look after a long-haul flight!

It seems more likely she spent winter, somewhere, as a pupa and emerged quite recently. As the first to arrive on site, she has certainly given her offspring a head start. It won't be long before these same plants will be jealously defended by territorial Vanessa kershawi males, waiting to mate visiting females such as this one. 

The following photos were taken a couple of years ago. We watched a female ovipositing and then collected an egg for a closer look at the tiny, green work of art.

Newly-laid egg (late October)

Newly-laid egg (late October)

Vanessa kershawi  caterpillar (early November)

Vanessa kershawi caterpillar (early November)

Around the same time, we discovered this Vanessa kershawi caterpillar feeding on daisy leaves.

Then, in January, we found this beautiful chrysalis hanging from a eucalypt leaf. Three days later a Vanessa kershawi butterfly emerged. No better way to identify a pupa or caterpillar than to raise it through to the adult stage.

Pupa discovered 16th January

Pupa discovered 16th January

Newly eclosed  Vanessa kershawi , with wings not fully expanded.

Newly eclosed Vanessa kershawi, with wings not fully expanded.

And that will be the topic of my next post. I currently have several little 'buddies' in my care, raising them through for identification. One was collected as a caterpillar last November and has spent Winter in a chrysalis. I think it is a Geometridae moth ... and hopefully we will find out very soon!