Graphium macleayanus (Leach, 1814)
Macleay's Swallowtail
(previously known as Papilio macleayanus)
Don Herbison-Evans
Stewart Newman & Stella Crossley

Graphium macleayanus
early instar
(Photo: courtesy of Wes Jenkinson)

This species was probably named after Alexander Macleay, a great international entomologist, and at that time (1814) the chairman of the Linnean Society of London. Later he emigrated to Australia, taking his great insect collection with him, and using it to found the Macleay Museum at the University of Sydney.

The Caterpillar is green with a humped thorax. Initially it has a black hump and a black forked tail. Later it becomes plain green with small white dots over the body, and two narrow yellow lines along the back. It feeds on the foliage various species of Sassafras:

  • Tasmanian Sassafras ( Atherosperma moschatum, MONIMIACEAE ),
  • Socketwood ( Daphnandra micrantha, MONIMIACEAE ),
  • Scentless Sassafras ( Daphnandra repandula, MONIMIACEAE ),
  • Australian Sassafras ( Doryphora sassafras, MONIMIACEAE ),

    and Australian native Pepper trees:

  • Tasmanian Pepper ( Tasmannia lanceolata, WINTERACEAE ),
  • Alpine Pepper ( Tasmannia xerophila, WINTERACEAE ).

    and various other subtropical trees, including:

  • Glasswood ( Geijera salicifolia, RUTACEAE ),
  • Camphor Laurel ( Cinnamomum camphora, LAURACEAE ),
  • Rose Maple ( Cryptocarya erythroxylon, LAURACEAE ),
  • White Walnut ( Cryptocarya hypospodia, LAURACEAE ),
  • Three veined Cryptocarya ( Cryptocarya triplinervis, LAURACEAE ),
  • Domatia Tree ( Endiandra discolor, LAURACEAE ), and
  • Hairy Walnut ( Endiandra pubens, LAURACEAE ).

    The caterpillar grows to a length of about 4 cms.

    Graphium macleayanus
    (Photo: courtesy of Wes Jenkinson)

    The pupa is green with thin pale lines and a peaked thorax. It suspended from a cremaster and girdle on the underside of foodplant leaf.

    Graphium macleayanus
    (Photo: courtesy of Rosemary Robins, Eureka, New South Wales)

    The adult butterflies have a wing span around 8 cms. The upperside of the wings is green with black and white markings. Unusually for butterflies. the legs are also green.

    Graphium macleayanus
    (Photo: courtesy of Di Donovan, Beecroft, New South Wales)

    Males congregate around hilltops, where they can be seen defending their territory from rival males and courting passing females. We used to watch them flying above the eucalypts at the highest point of a local hill. They rarely came down to a catchable height.

    Graphium macleayanus
    (Specimen: courtesy of the The Australian Museum)

    The undersides are green with black and brown margins.

    Graphium macleayanus
    camouflaged adult feeding on nectar,
    on Pittosporum undulatum, Kulnura ridgeline, New South Wales.
    (Photo: courtesy of Boris Branwhite, Wyong Shire, New South Wales)

    Various races have been described, including:

  • insulanum (Waterhouse, 1920) on Lord Howe Island,
  • macleayanum in Queensland and New South Wales, and
  • moggana Couchman, 1965, in Victoria and Tasmania, and
  • wilsoni Couchman, 1965, in Tasmania,
  • although the adults show a geographical and seasonal colour variation making the validity of the races wilsoni and insulanum doubtful.

    ( Australia Post, 1981)

    The eggs are round and pale green. They are laid singly on young shoots of a food plant.

    (Courtesy : Instant Scratchies)

    Further reading :

    Michael F. Braby,
    Butterflies of Australia,
    CSIRO Publishing, Melbourne 2000, vol. 1, pp. 256-258.

    Frank Jordan & Helen Schwencke,
    Create More Butterflies : a guide to 48 butterflies and their host-plants
    Earthling Enterprises, Brisbane, 2005, pp. 30, 64, 66.

    William Elford Leach,
    Zoological Miscellany; being Descriptions of New, or Interesting Animals,
    Volume 1 (1814), p. 17, and also Plate 5.

    Australian Butterflies
    Australian Moths

    (updated 22 December 2012, 24 February 2014, 12 May 2015)