Tisiphone abeona (Donovan, 1805)
Varied Swordgrass Brown
(one synonym : Oreas zelinde Hübner, [1808])
Don Herbison-Evans
Stella Crossley

Tisiphone abeona
(Photo: courtesy of Ross Kendall, Butterfly Encounters, Indooroopilly, Queensland)

These Caterpillars are green with indistinct longitudinal lines, sometimes with a vague dorsal orange markings. Initially the caterpillars are sparsely covered in long thin hairs, but later instars are sort of fuzzy. The caterpillars have a forked tail which is quite harmless.

Tisiphone abeona
(Photo: courtesy of Helen Schwencke, from Create More Butterflies)

The caterpillars feed on various species of :

  • Swordgrass ( Gahnia species, CYPERACEAE )

    which are tall sedges with sharply edged leaves. The caterpillars grow to a length of about 6 cms.

    Tisiphone abeona
    (Photo: courtesy of R.P. Field; © Museum Victoria)

    The pupa is green with a yellow line around the developing wings. It is suspended head down, by a cremaster, from a leaf of its food plant.

    Tisiphone abeona
    (Specimen: courtesy of the The Australian Museum)

    The wings of the adult butterflies are brown with a broad yellow stripe diagonally across each forewing. The forewings also each have two eyespots, one large and one small, and the hind wings have one eyespot each.

    Tisiphone abeona
    (Specimen: courtesy of the The Australian Museum)

    The undersides are similar, except that each wing has two eyespots. The butterflies have a wingspan of about 6 cms.

    Tisiphone abeona
    (Photo: courtesy of Anthea Flemming)

    The species is found along the south-eastern coastal strip of Australia, from Gympie, through Victoria, to Adelaide, in which area several subspecies have been recognised :

  • abeona in New South Wales south of the Hunter River,
  • albifascia Waterhouse, 1904, in New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia,
  • aurelia Waterhouse, 1915, in mid New South Wales,
  • joanna (Butler, 1866) in New South Wales,
  • morrisi Waterhouse, 1914, in coastal northern New South Wales,
  • regalis Waterhouse, 1928, in the mountains of southern Queensland and northern New South Wales, and
  • rawnsleyi (Miskin, 1876) in coastal southern Queensland.
  • Tisiphone abeona
    subspecies Tisiphone abeona rawnsleyi
    (Photo: courtesy of Gary Brooks, Tinnanbar, Queensland)

    The subspecies rawnsleyi is unique in having no pale markings on the upper surfaces of the forewings.

    Tisiphone abeona
    ( Australia Post, 1981)

    The eggs are pale green, nearly spherical with slight dimpling, and have a diameter of about 1.5 mm. They are usually laid singly, usually on the inner leaves or drooping leaves of a foodplant, or on a plant nearby.

    Tisiphone abeona
    egg, highly magnified
    (Photo: courtesy of Ken Walker, Taree, New South Wales)

    Further reading :

    Michael F. Braby,
    Butterflies of Australia,
    CSIRO Publishing, Melbourne 2000, vol. 2, pp. 523-525.

    Edward Donovan,
    General Illustration of Entomology,
    An Epitome of the Natural History of the Insects of New Holland, New Zealand, New Guinea, Otaheite and other Islands in the Indian, Southern and Pacific Oceans,
    London (1803), Part 1, p. 105, and also Plate p. 14.

    Frank Jordan & Helen Schwencke,
    Create More Butterflies : a guide to 48 butterflies and their host-plants
    Earthling Enterprises, Brisbane, 2005, p. 46.

    John Moss,
    Varied Swordgrass Brown Butterfly, Tisiphone abeona (Donovan, 1805) - a personal and historical perspective,
    Butterfly and Other Invertebrates Club Newsletter,
    Issue 49 (June 2008), pp. 4-10.

    Australian Butterflies
    Australian Moths

    (updated 22 April 2009, 3 March 2017, 29 June 2020, 4 September 2021, 13 January 2022)