Charaxes sempronius (Fabricius, 1793)
Tailed Emperor
(formerly known as Polyura sempronius)
Don Herbison-Evans
Stella Crossley

Charaxes sempronius
early instar
(Photo: courtesy of Sharron Marks)

These Caterpillars are initially yellow with a black head. They change to green in later instars, with a number of yellow crescents distributed along the body, one each on the third and fifth segments, and sometimes on other segments as well.

Charaxes sempronius
Caterpillar with few crescents
(Photo: Don Herbison-Evans, University of Sydney, New South Wales)

The head is frightening, like a large green shield four horns on it, and smaller projections between them. In fact the animal is quite harmless.

Charaxes sempronius
Caterpillar with lots of crescents
(Photo: courtesy of Carol Buchanan, Bayldon, New South Wales)

The caterpillar weaves a loose white cocoon on the leaves on which it is feeding, which is useful for spotting places to search for it. We have found it on various species of Wattle ( Acacia, MIMOSACEAE ) such as:

  • Cootamundra Wattle ( Acacia baileyana ),
  • Queensland Silver Wattle ( Acacia podalyriifolia ),
  • Glory Wattle ( Acacia spectabilis ),

    as well as other plants such as:

  • Ti Plant ( Cordyline fruticosa, ASPARAGACEAE ),
  • Poinciana ( Delonix regia, CAESALPINIACEAE ),
  • Sweet Potato ( Ipomoea batatas, CONVOLVULACEAE ),
  • Black Locust ( Robinia pseudoacacia, FABACEAE ),
  • Camphor Laurel ( Cinnamomum camphora, LAURACEAE ),
  • Crepe Myrtle ( Lagerstroemia indica, LYRTHRACEAE ),
  • Black Booyong ( Argyrodendron actinophyllum, STERCULIACEAE ), and
  • Hackberry ( Celtis species, ULMACEAE ).

    The caterpillars also commonly feed on :

  • Honey Locust ( Gleditsia triacanthos ), and
  • Yellow Poinciana ( Peltophorum pterocarpum )

    in CAESALPINIACEAE, which are deciduous and causes fatalities to when the leaves fall with the pupa attached.

    Charaxes sempronius
    Caterpillar with web
    (Photo: courtesy of Sharron Marks)

    The caterpillar grows to a length of about 8 cms. It pupates dangling by its cremaster from the stem of its food plant, or an adjacent bush.

    Charaxes sempronius
    Caterpillar about to pupate
    (Photo: courtesy of Steven Dodge, Nowra, New South Wales)

    The pupa is green with white bands where the wings develop, and also has a pair of white dorsal lines on the abdomen.

    Charaxes sempronius
    (Photo: courtesy of Stewart Newman, Sydney, New South Wales)

    The adult butterflies have a wing span up to 11 cms. The wings are predominantly cream and black above. The hind wings are extended into two narrow pointed tails on each side. There is an orange patch to the inside of these on each upper surface.

    Charaxes sempronius
    (Photo: courtesy of Helen Schwencke, from Create More Butterflies)

    Underneath, the wings are predominatly cream and brown, with orange and rusty brown markings.

    Charaxes sempronius
    (Photo: courtesy of Melanie Aquilina, Lismore, New South Wales)

    The adult butterflies are attracted to fermenting juice such as rotting fruit or sap. When they feed on this, they often become intoxicated and easy to capture.

    The eggs are initially pale green and spherical with a flat top, and a diameter of about 2 mm. They become yellow and develop dark markings as hatching approaches. They are laid singly on a foodplant.

    Charaxes sempronius
    egg, magnified
    (Photo: courtesy of Ken Walker, Brisbane, Queensland)

    The species seems to prefer a tropical or subtropical climate, but sometimes is found further south, so has been found in:

  • Western Australia,
  • Northern Territory,
  • Queensland,
  • New South Wales,
  • Lord Howe Island,
  • Australian Capital Territory,
  • Victoria,
  • South Australia.

    Polyura sempronius
    Hutt River Province

    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. 527-529.

    Johan Christian Fabricius,
    Entomologia systematica emendata et aucta,
    Volume 3, Part 1 (1793), p. 62, No. 194.

    Wesley Jenkinson,
    Life history notes on the Tailed Emperor Charaxes sempronius (Fabricius, 1793) Lepidoptera: Nymphalidae,
    Metamorphosis Australia,
    Issue 96 (March 2020), pp. 13-18,
    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. 44.

    Australian Butterflies
    Australian Moths

    (updated 3 January 2010, 7 December 2022)