Hypochrysops ignita (Leach, 1814)
Fiery Jewel
(previously known as Lycaena ignitus)
Don Herbison-Evans
Stella Crossley

Hypochrysops ignita
(Photo: courtesy of R.P.Field, Museums Victoria)

The eggs of this species are round, white and flattened, with a diameter of about 0.8 mm. They are laid in spring in groups at the base of the foodplant, typically by the nest of the small black ants :

  • Coconut Ant ( Papyrius nitidus, DOLICHODERINAE ).

    If there is no ant nest already at the base of the plant where the eggs are laid, the ants actually come and build one.

    The Caterpillars are fawn and velvety, with a broad dark dorsal band, and zig-zag black and yellow lines. By day the caterpillars shelter in the ant nest, and are shepherded by the ants to the new shoots in the evening, and back to the nest at dawn. The caterpillars feed on a wide variety of plants, including:

  • Daphne Heath ( Brachyloma daphnoides, ERICACEAE ),
  • Dogwood ( Jacksonia scoparia, FABACEAE ),
  • Wattles ( Acacia, MIMOSACEAE ),
  • Gum Trees ( Eucalyptus species, MYRTACEAE ),
  • Red Ash ( Alphitonia excelsa, RHAMNACEAE ),
  • Blackberry ( Rubus fruticosus, ROSACEAE ),
  • Native Cherry ( Exocarpus cupressiformis, SANTALACEAE ),
  • Carrotwood ( Cupaniopsis anacardioides, SAPINDACEAE ), and
  • Camellia ( Camellia japonica, THEACEAE ).

    Hypochrysops ignita
    (Photo: courtesy of R.P.Field, Museums Victoria)

    The pupa is a mottled brown, and normally occurs inside the nest of the host ants. It has a length of about 1.3 cms.

    Hypochrysops ignita
    (Photo: courtesy of CSIRO/BIO Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics, University of Guelph)

    The adult male and female butterflies look very similar. On top, they are basically dark brown, with a blue iridescent sheen. The females have more rounded wings. The butterflies have a wing span of about 3 cms.

    Hypochrysops ignita
    (Photo: courtesy of CSIRO/BIO Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics, University of Guelph)

    Underneath: they have patterns like flames: yellow with scarlet bands outlined in black, white, and iridescent green. This is presumably the origin of their scientific name, derived from 'ignis', the Latin word for 'fire'. There are also three or four black spots under each forewing.

    Hypochrysops ignita
    (Specimen: courtesy of the Macleay Museum, University of Sydney)

    The eggs are white, and shaped like partly squashed spheres, with minute dimples and spikes. The eggs have a diameter of about 1.5 mm. They are laid singly on a leaf or stem of a foodplant.

    Hypochrysops ignita
    egg, magnified
    (Photo: courtesy of Ken Walker, Huon, Voctoria)

    The species occurs as a number of races in

  • New Guinea,

    and around much of the coast of Australia, including

  • Western Australia,
  • Northern Territory,
  • Queensland,
  • New South Wales,
  • Victoria, and
  • South Australia,

    as the subspecies :

  • olliffi Miskin, 1889, in the south of Western Australia,
  • erythrina Waterhouse & Lyell, 1909, in the north of Western Australia and the Northern Territory,
  • chrysonotus Grose-Smith, 1899, in northern Queensland, and
  • ignita in southern Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia.

    Further reading :

    Michael F. Braby,
    Butterflies of Australia,
    CSIRO Publishing, Melbourne 2000, vol. 2, pp. 670-672.

    William Elford Leach,
    Zoological Miscellany,
    Volume 1 (1814) p. 136, and also Plate 60.

    Buck Richardson,
    Tropical Queensland Wildlife from Dusk to Dawn Science and Art,
    LeapFrogOz, Kuranda, 2015, p. 227.

    Australian Butterflies
    Australian Moths

    (updated 19 November 2012, 22 December 2023)