Ulysses Swallowtail butterfly

Ulysses Swallowtail hovering to feed on Pentas
Ulysses Swallowtail hovering to feed on Pentas

Cairns Birdwing butterflies are, to be sure, impressively large and colourful but they still don’t deserve quite as much of the limelight as they have been getting here lately. The Ulysses (Papilio ulysses), for instance, is nearly as large and is arguably more spectacular in flight since the intense electric blue of the wings flickers like lightning.

They are a real challenge to the photographer since their flight is very fast and erratic and when they do settle, which happens rarely, they fold their wings and we see only the brown undersides.  (Any photo of a Ulysses resting with wings outspread has been staged to some extent – they don’t normally do it in real life for the very good reason that they would be fatally obvious to predators.)

Both of these photos, which show two different individuals visiting my garden yesterday morning, were taken while the butterflies hovered to feed from Pentas flowers; a fast shutter speed eliminates most of the blur, and taking lots of photos means that one or two will show the wings reasonably well.

Pentas (Pentas lanceolata), by the way, are our best year-round butterfly feeding plant, since they flower constantly and all species seem to appreciate the nectar. Oddly, the leaves are loved to death by the Hawk-moth caterpillars but not favoured by any of the butterfly caterpillars.

Ulysses Swallowtail feeding on Pentas
Ulysses Swallowtail

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