The Clearwing Swallowtail butterfly

clear-winged butterfly near creeper
Clearwing Swallowtail in flight near Aristolochia vine

Clearwing Swallowtails, Cressida cressida, lay their eggs on five different species of Aristolochia, according to Don Herbison-Evans and Stella Crossley’s great Butterflies of Australia site. Peter Valentine (Butterflies of the Townsville Area) agrees, adding that they especially patronise “the low small species scattered through the grasslands.”

The caterpillars change colour and pattern as they grow. The three below are all Clearwing caterpillars, at early, middle and late stages of development.

Caterpillar of Clearwing Swallowtail 9389

Caterpillar of Clearwing Swallowtail 7227

Caterpillar of Clearwing Swallowtail 7223

Cairns Birdwing caterpillars (Troides euphorion) also depend on Aristolochia – four native species of it, in fact. However, there is only one species that both kinds of caterpillars like: Aristolochia tagala

Here for comparison are Birdwing caterpillars, showing young and old since they also change considerably as they grow:

Caterpillar of Cairns Birdwing 7217

Birdwing caterpillar 9466

Recently we have had both species of butterfly laying eggs on our vines and we can’t grow enough of them to feed all the caterpillars that hatch. It’s a continuation, really, of the situation we had back in May. Part of the problem is that a single caterpillar can consume a whole vine seedling within a day so we have difficulty rearing a vine past its infancy; we may have to begin growing them under wire mesh until they are well established.

7 thoughts on “The Clearwing Swallowtail butterfly”

  1. I had 6 or 7 Pipe vinesgrowing on ixoras, but during their process, the vines seem to have been eaten right down to the ground; will they just grow up again? or alternatively, how does one propagate these aristolochia tagala vines? I live in Cairns.

    1. Hi, Judy,
      As you have found, those very hungry caterpillars can and do eat their host plants down to the ground. At that stage the vine will not recover, so far as I know, and the caterpillar will starve if it can’t find another vine (I have seen them going cross-country in search of one).
      On the other hand, propagating the vines is easy if they last long enough to flower and set seed. The seed capsules are initially green fruits about macadamia size, and when they mature they become delicate brown hanging baskets (not my photo). Each basket contains dozens of seeds and they grow easily – fill a tray with compost or potting mix, scatter the seeds over the surface, cover with a fine layer of dirt or compost, and wait. Plant them out near a tree, shrub or fence and most will do well.
      If you haven’t got any seeds, ask around greenie gardening friends – I’m sure they will be happy to share. If you’re really stuck, ask me and I may be able to post you a few.

      1. Thanks heaps Malcolm; unfortunately I don’t know anybody around here that is even interested in the Birdwings, so when you have some spare seeds, I would really appreciate some!
        Do the butterflies come to lay their eggs during a certain season? I am trying to learn more about them thru the net, etc. – that’s how I found you ! Thankyou very much.

    1. Thankyou Malcolm; I’m looking forward to hearing from you; let’s hope Ita stays north of Cooktown eh? can you let me know if the Birdwings appear seasonally?

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