Danaus chrysippus (Linnaeus, 1758)
Plain Tiger
(one synonym : Limnas bowringi Moore, 1883)
Don Herbison-Evans
Stella Crossley

Danaus chrysippus
Bhutan, 1997

This species was probably named after the philosopher Chrysippus of ancient Greece.

The Caterpillar of this species is banded with black and yellow, and has yellow spots all over. It also has three pairs of filaments which in later instars have red bases.

The caterpillar feeds on various plants that have a poisonous milky sap. The caterpillar appears to retain the poisons in its body making it unpalatable to predators.

It's foods are mainly from the Milkweed family ( APOCYNACEAE ), and include :

  • Blood Flower ( Asclepias curassavica ),
  • Balloon Plant ( Asclepias physocarpa ),
  • Bush Potato ( Brachystelma glabriflorum ),
  • Common Milkweed ( Calotropis gigantea ),
  • Rubber Bush ( Calotropis procera ),
  • Mangrove Milkweed ( Cynanchum carnosum ),
  • Swan Plant ( Gomphocarpus fruticosus ),
  • Bush Banana ( Marsdenia australis ), and
  • Jaldudhi ( Oxystelma esculentum ).

    The caterpillar grows to a length of about 3 cms. The pupa hangs by its tail from a leaf of the foodplant, and has a length of about 1.5 cms. In life, it is greenish-brown with a golden ring around the thorax. The skin turns brown once the butterfly has left the pupa.

    Danaus chrysippus
    Seychelles Islands, 1987

    The adult butterflies are orange with wide black borders around the wings, and a variable number of white spots in the black tips of the forewings. The head is black with white spots, and the thorax black with a white dorsal line. The abdomen is brown. The butterflies only have four legs.

    The male has a more prominent black markings near the centre of each hind wing. The undersides are similar to the upper surfaces. The wingspan is about 6 cms.

    The eggs are pale yellow and bullet-shaped. They are laid singly on young growth of a foodplant.

    Danaus chrysippus
    Ascension Island, 1988

    The species occurs as various subspecies, across southern Europe, Africa, and Asia, including :

  • Bavaria,
  • Egypt,
  • India,
  • Malaysia,
  • South Africa Spain,

    and sometimes vagrants blow in to Australia, and have been seen in

  • Western Australia,

    and more recently a breeding population has been found in

  • Northern Territory.

    Distinguishing the Australian Danaus petilia from vagrant Danaus chrysippus is possible by noting that in Danaus petilia:

  • the cell along the forewing costa is darker (on both upper and under surfaces),
  • the 3 narrow white stripes, along the forewing costa at 2/3rds, are shorter (on both upper and under surfaces), and
  • the double row of white spots along the hindwing underside margin are wider.

    Further reading :

    Michael F. Braby,
    Butterflies of Australia,
    CSIRO Publishing, Melbourne 2000, vol. 2, pp. 593-594.

    Carl Linnaeus,
    Insecta Lepidoptera,
    Systema Naturae,
    Volume 1, Edition 10 (1760), Class 5, Part 3, p. 471, No. 81.

    John T. Moss,
    Focus on the Lesser Wanderer butterfly, Danaus petilia (Stoll, 1790) Lepidoptera: Danainae: itsname, origins, distribution, hosts, congeners, and mimics,
    Butterflies and Other Invertebrates Club,
    Metamorphosis Australia,
    Issue 88 (March 2018), pp. 4-9,

    Australian Butterflies
    Australian Moths

    (updated 20 January 2011, 30 November 2013, 4 March 2015, 8 April 2019, 16 June 2020)