Protographium leosthenes (Doubleday, 1846)
Four-barred Swordtail
(previously known as Papilio leosthenes)
Don Herbison-Evans
Peter R. Samson & Stella Crossley

Protographium leosthenes
(Photo copyright: Peter Samson)

The eggs of this species are cream and laid singly on the of young leaves of the foodplant. The Caterpillar feeds on various plants in ANNONACEAE, including

  • Niadoa ( Desmos wardianus),
  • Zig Zag Vine, ( Melodorum leichhardtii ),
  • Canary Beech ( Polyalthia nitidissima ), and
  • Rock Vine ( Uvaria rupestre ),.

    When not eating, the caterpillar rests on a silken bed attached to the upper surface of a leaf.

    Protographium leosthenes
    (Photo: courtesy of the Macleay Museum, University of Sydney)

    The caterpillars when young (the early instars) are pale green with black spots and black thorax and tail. Later, the caterpillar becomes brown. When mature it becomes green with brown or yellow spots, and a pale line along each side above the prolegs, and grows to a length of about 3.5 cms.

    Protographium leosthenes
    (Photo copyright: Peter Samson)

    The pupa is quite stout, green with pink markings. It is secured under a leaf of the foodplant by a cremaster and girdle. The pupa has a length of about 2 cms.

    Protographium leosthenes
    (Photo: courtesy of Todd Burrows, South Stradbroke Island, Queensland)

    The adults have pale wings with black edges, and four black marks along the costa. The hindwings have very long tails, as long as the width of the hindwings. Underneath, the markings are similar, except the hindwings have some red markings. The wingspan is about 5 cms.

    Protographium leosthenes
    specimen with damage particularly to the tails, typical of near misses from bird attacks
    (Photo: courtesy of Gary Brooks, Tinnanbar, Queensland)

    There is evidence that the prominent tails on the hindwings are a sacrificial distraction to predators, rather like the sacrificial loss of the tail by lizards.

    Protographium leosthenes
    (Photo: courtesy of Paul Kay)

    Two subspecies have been recognised in Australia :

  • leosthenes along the north-east coast of Australia, including Queensland, and
  • geimbia (Tindale, 1927) in the Northern Territory.

    Protographium leosthenes
    (Photo: courtesy of Paul Kay)

    Further reading :

    Michael F. Braby,
    Butterflies of Australia,
    CSIRO Publishing, Melbourne 2000, vol. 1, pp. 253-254.

    Edward Doubleday,
    Descriptions of New or Imperfectly Described Diurnal Lepidoptera,
    Annals and Magazine of Natural History,
    Volume 18, Part 121 (1846), pp. 372-373.

    Frank Jordan & Helen Schwencke,
    Create More Butterflies : a guide to 48 butterflies and their host-plants
    Earthling Enterprises, Brisbane, 2005, pp. 19, 66.

    Bob Miller,
    Four-barred Swordtail (Protographium leosthenes leosthenes),
    Butterflies and Other Invertebrates Club,
    Metamorphosis Australia,
    Issue 18 (September 2000)

    Australian Butterflies
    Australian Moths

    (updated 28 September 2010, 28 December 2023)