Ringlets (Hypocysta spp.) are smallish, brownish butterflies showing attractive flashes of orange in flight but camouflaged at rest unless they spread their wings to bask. Their wingspan is about 30mm, very much the same size as the common Grass-yellows (Eurema spp.) but noticeably smaller than Migrants, Crows and Tigers and larger than the Blues.
All six Australian species are found on the East coast and we have three of them in the Townsville region, the Orange, Northern and Brown Ringlets (H. adiante, H. irius and H. metirius) although the last of these is not common close to Townsville. In fact, we rarely see any of them except on the rocky grassy slopes of Castle Hill, Mt Stuart and the Many Peaks Range. Why not?
We generally see butterflies in three kinds of places: where they (the adults) can feed, where they can find a mate, and around the plants on which their caterpillars feed.
‘Hill-topping’, a mating strategy I wrote about here, is not usually necessary, so males of most species can simply hang around the ‘larval food plants’ (to use the technical term) for females who want to lay their eggs there. That reduces our sightings to two kinds of locations and in extreme cases to one, where the larval food plant’s flowers provide most of the adults’ food and the whole life cycle occurs in the immediate vicinity of the host plant.
Adult butterflies feed primarily on nectar and they are not fussy about which plants they take it from, so long as they can reach it. The association between caterpillars and plants they eat is far closer, however, to the degree that butterflies may be named for their host plants, e.g. the ‘Plumbago Blue’ which feeds exclusively on plumbago in our gardens, or the ‘Milkweed Butterflies’ (Danainae) which utilise various milkweeds (Apocynaceae).
The Ringlets’ host plants are native grasses. Kangaroo Grass (Themeda triandra) is the primary (one source says the only) food plant of the Orange Ringlet, while Blady Grass (Imperata cylindrica), Couch (Cynodon dactylon), Tall Saw Sedge (Gahnia clarkeis) and other species have been recorded for the other two.
Kangaroo Grass? Orange Ringlets. No Kangaroo Grass? No Orange Ringlets.
• This article appeared in a slightly different form in Kapok, newsletter of
Coastal Dry Tropics Landcare Inc. (FB page), in October 2017.
F. Braby: The Distribution, Status and Habitat Associations of the Satyrine (Lepidoptera: Nymphalidae) Fauna of Northeastern Australia. J. Aust. Ent. Soc., 1995.
Michael Braby: The Complete Field Guide to Butterflies of Australia (2nd ed., 2016) (brief review here)