Common and Blue-banded Eggfly butterflies

close-up of brown and white butterfly
A female Common Eggfly feeding on pentas
dark butterfly with white and orange markings
The same butterfly with wings spread

This is a good season for butterflies – still warm, and all their food plants still growing well with the last of the Wet season – and several species besides the Cairns Birdwing and Ulysses are still around in good numbers. The lady above is a Common Eggfly, Hypolimnas Bolina, also known as the Varied Eggfly. The males are consistently dark with blue-white eye-spots but the species earns its alternate common name through the wide variation in the females’ upper wing coloration. The one pictured is one of the darker forms; visit this set of my photos on flickr to see the males and other female colour schemes. We also have another closely related species, the Blue-banded Eggfly, Hypolimnas alimena. They are much the same size and their undersides are much the same colours – standard dead-leaf camouflage colours with some white markings – but the males’ upper wing surfaces are quite different.

dark butterfly with blue bands around the wings
Blue-banded Eggfly on Maiden’s Blush

The apparent colour of all these butterflies changes with the viewing angle, as seen in the photo above, in which the two wings are seen from different angles and almost look as though they belong to two different butterflies. The effect is due to the physical structure, not the pigments, of the scales on the wings and Wikipedia’s Structural Coloration page is a good starting point for anyone wishing to learn more about it. Males of both these species are aggressively territorial so I was quite surprised by these two seen amicably sharing the same creeper:

Two male Blue-banded Eggfly
Two male Blue-banded Eggfly

5 thoughts on “Common and Blue-banded Eggfly butterflies”

  1. Wow, have you got a new lens, or was the light just right? The female common egg fly on pentas is just luminous, and so brilliantly detailed!

    1. Glad you liked it!
      No new lens – that 100mm Canon macro is so good I have never considered looking for anything to replace it – but a combination of good light, co-operative subjects (all the photos on this post and the previous one were taken in less than half an hour) and good old-fashioned luck; partly also a matter of editorial choice, since you wouldn’t have seen that level of detail if I hadn’t cropped in so close to my subject. Most of my photos here are cropped to some extent, and this time I decided you didn’t need the background as much as you would enjoy the textures of the wing.

  2. Hi Malcolm, we at the Coffs Butterfly House also have the brown form of Hypolimnas (I think it is dawinensis) have you seen one up there? I have pics if you like.

    1. Good question, Rebecca! The different species and colour forms of Eggfly seem designed to confuse us as well as the predators, and I have to say I am not quite sure.
      This page on one of my most-used reference sites (hosted by your own institution – thanks!) shows the four species of Hypolimnas: H. bolina (Common), H. alimena (Blue-banded), H. anomala (Crow) and H. misippus (Danaid). Some females of both the first two species are basically brown, and we probably have them. The Crow Eggfly is also basically brown but I doubt that we have it here (although I can’t rule out the occasional stray).
      The ‘darwinensis’ you mention is a subspecies of H. alimena and Braby reckons it is restricted to the NT but that its female is identical to one form of the female of our own subspecies, H. alimena lamina.
      We do see brownish female eggflies but, on this basis, they are most likely H. alimena lamina or H. bolina.
      Tricky!

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