Papilio ambrax Boisduval, 1832
Ambrax Swallowtail
(previously known as Princeps ambrax)
Don Herbison-Evans
Stella Crossley

Papilio ambrax

The Caterpillar of this species is initially black and white.

Papilio ambrax
disturbed caterpillar showing horns
(Photo: courtesy of Wes Jenkinson)

When disturbed, early instars produce a pair of yellow fleshy horns from behind the head.

Papilio ambrax
(Photo: courtesy of Buck Richardson, Kuranda, Queensland)

The last instar is quite different in shape and coloration from the early instars, being green with black bands outlined in white. It has a brown head.

Papilio ambrax
(Specimen: courtesy of Coffs Harbour Butterfly House)

When provoked, it displays a pair of red osmeteria.

Papilio ambrax
(Photo: courtesy of Ellen Reid, Bible Museum, St Arnaud, Victoria)

The caterpillar feeds on various species in the family RUTACEAE : the Australian natives :

  • Mt White Lime ( Citrus garrawayae ),
  • Large Leaf Lime ( Citrus inodora ),
  • Citrus-Skinned Grape ( Clausena brevistyla ),
  • Satin Wood ( Zanthoxylum brachyacanthum ),
  • Prickly Ash ( Zanthoxylum nitidum ),
  • Oval-leaved Liana ( Zanthoxylum ovalifolium ),

    and the introduced

  • cultivated Citrus e.g. Lemon, Orange,
  • Wood Apple ( Limonia acidissima = Feronia limonia ),
  • Curry Leaf Tree, ( Murraya koenigii ), and
  • Japanese Prickly Ash ( Zanthoxylum ailanthoides ).

    Papilio ambrax
    (Photo: courtesy of Wes Jenkinson)

    The pupa is green and naked. It is attached to the stem of its foodplant by a cremaster at the tail and a silk girdle around the middle.

    Papilio ambrax
    (Photo: courtesy of Buck Richardson, Kuranda, Queensland)

    The adults have black wings with a white mark near the front wingtip, and a large white patch on each hindwing. The hind wings also have some red spots near the margin.

    Papilio ambrax
    (Photo: courtesy of Paul Kay)

    The female has more extensive white markings on the forewings. They both have a wingspan of about 8 cms.

    Papilio ambrax
    (Photo: courtesy of Paul Kay)

    The undersides are similar, with additional blue spots on the hindwings.

    Papilio ambrax
    Photo: courtesy of Buck Richardson, from
    Tropical Queensland Wildlife from Dusk to Dawn Science and Art

    The species occurs as various subspecies in

  • New Guinea,
  • Sulawesi,

    and in Australia (as subspecies egipius Miskin, 1876) in:

  • Queensland.

    Further reading :

    Jean Baptiste Boisduval, in Jules-Sébastien-César Dumont d'Urville,
    Faune Entomologique,
    Voyage de Decouvertes de la Corvette l'Astrolabe,
    Division 7, Volume 1 (1832), p. 40, No. 5.

    Michael F. Braby,
    Butterflies of Australia,
    CSIRO Publishing, Melbourne 2000, vol. 1, pp. 270-271.

    Ross Kendall,
    Images of Butterfly Larvae,
    Metamorphosis Australia,
    Issue 55 (December 2009), p. 32,
    Butterflies and Other Invertebrates Club.

    Buck Richardson,
    Tropical Queensland Wildlife from Dusk to Dawn Science and Art,
    LeapFrogOz, Kuranda, 2015, p. 233.

    Australian Butterflies
    Australian Moths

    (updated 7 November 2011, 31 October 2022)