Danaus petilia (Stoll, 1790)
Australian Lesser Wanderer
DANAINAE,   NYMPHALIDAE,   PAPILIONOIDEA
 
Don Herbison-Evans
(donherbisonevans@outlook.com)
and
Stella Crossley

Danaus petilia
(Photo: courtesy of Jutta Godwin, Cubberla-Witton Catchments Network, Brisbane, Queensland)

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

Danaus petilia
(Photo: courtesy of Jutta Godwin, Cubberla-Witton Catchments Network, Brisbane, Queensland)

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.

Danaus petilia
(Dried and blown specimen: courtesy of the The Australian Museum)

In Australia, its foods are all 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
  • Milkweed Vine ( Sarcostemma esculentum ).

    The Caterpillar grows to a length of about 3 cms.

    Danaus petilia
    (Photo: courtesy of Martin Purvis, Ingleburn, New South Wales)

    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 petilia
    (Photo: courtesy of Martin Purvis, Ingleburn, New South Wales)

    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.

    Danaus petilia
    Female
    (Specimen: courtesy of the The Australian Museum)

    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.

    Danaus petilia
    Male
    (Specimen: courtesy of the The Australian Museum)

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

    Danaus petilia
    Male, underside
    (Specimen: courtesy of the The Australian Museum)

    The species occurs as various subspecies in the South-West Pacific region including in

  • Solomons, and
  • New Guinea,

    as well as being found over the whole of Australia, including

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

    Distinguishing the Australian Danaus petilia from Asian 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.

    Danaus petilia
    Female, underside
    (Specimen: courtesy of the The Australian Museum)

    Butterflies of this species may be purchased for release at weddings etc.


    Further reading :

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

    Wesley Jenkinson,
    Life history notes on the Lesser Wanderer, Danaus petilia (Stoll, 1790) Lepidoptera: Nymphalidae,
    Metamorphosis Australia,
    Issue 88 (March 2018), pp. 9-12,
    Butterflies and Other Invertebrates Club.

    Frank Jordan & Helen Schwencke,
    Create More Butterflies : a guide to 48 butterflies and their host-plants
    Earthling Enterprises, Brisbane, 2005, p. 29.

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

    Buck Richardson,
    Tropical Queensland Wildlife from Dusk to Dawn Science and Art,
    LeapFrogOz, Kuranda, 2015, p. 223.

    Caspar Stoll,
    Papillons exotiques,
    in Pieter Cramer:
    De uitlandsche kapellen, voorkomende in de drie waereld,
    Supplement (1791), pp. 132-133, and also Plate 28, fig. 3.


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