Papilio ulysses Linnaeus, 1758
Ulysses Swallowtail
Don Herbison-Evans
Stella Crossley

Papilio ulysses
early instar
(Photo: courtesy of Renee Cremen, Cairns, Queensland)

This species is presumably named after the Ancient Greek hero Ulysses/Odysseus, who had an epic journey home after engaging in the siege of Troy.

Early instars Caterpillars of this species have a pair of soft spikes on the back of each segment. The caterpillars are yellowish-green, with black marks on the thorax and part-way along the back of the abdomen, and a pair of pale spikes on the tail.

Papilio ulysses
later instar, magnified
(Photo: courtesy of Renee Cremen, Cairns, Queensland)

Later instars are still spiky, and are green with a pair of white spots halfway along the back, a row of yellow marks along each side, a yellow and white bar across the thorax, two white spikes on the tail, and black markings on the face.

Papilio ulysses
mature instar
(Photo: courtesy of Karen Doyle, Townsville, Queensland)

Mature instars lose the spikes and yellow markings, retaining one or more pairs of white spots, and also the pair of white horns on the tail. The thorax has a white bar, and the underside, prolegs and the truelegs become white. The caterpillars rest by day on a pad of silk deposited on a curled leaf, sometimes resting gregariously in pairs or small groups.

Papilio ulysses
(Photo: courtesy of Jan MacDonald, Ilbilbie, Queensland)

In the wild they feed on the new growth foliage of various jungle trees including:

  • Pink Corkwood ( Endiandra sieberi, LAURACEAE ),

    and in RUTACEAE the plants:

  • Fuzzy Lemon Aspen ( Acronychia vestita ),
  • Silver Ash ( Flindersia bourjotiana ),
  • Glasswood ( Geijera salicifolia ),
  • Kerosine Wood ( Halfordia kendack ),
  • Pink Princess ( Melicope elleryana ),
  • Little Evodia ( Melicope rubra ),
  • Northern Euodia ( Melicope vitiflora ),

    and they will also accept the foliage of:

  • Oranges, Lemons, etc. ( Citrus species ).

    Papilio ulysses
    (Specimen: courtesy of Tony Craft, Coffs Harbour Butterfly House)

    The pupa is normally suspended by cremaster and girdle from the foodplant. The pupa has a length of about 4 cms.

    Papilio ulysses
    (Photo: courtesy of Wendy Gray, Millaa Millaa, Queensland)

    The wings of the adults have metallic blue upper surfaces, with black borders. The hindwings each have a tail near the tornus.

    Papilio ulysses
    (Photo: courtesy of Paul Kay)

    The males have a little more blue than the females.

    Papilio ulysses
    (Photo: courtesy of Paul Kay)

    The shade of also blue varies with the angle of view and the lighting. The butterflies have a wingspan of about 10 cms.

    Papilio ulysses
    pale underside
    (Photo: courtesy of Gary Fortington, Yungaburra, Queensland)

    Underneath they have a cryptic brown pattern. The butterflies feed on nectar, especially from the flowers of:

  • Lantana ( Lantana camara, VERBENACEAE ).

    Papilio ulysses
    dark underside.
    (Photo: courtesy of Gary Fortington, Yungaburra, Queensland)

    The males are especially attracted to blue objects, even from a distance of 30 metres. Collectors often exploit this by using a piece of blue paper or cloth to attract the butterflies.

    Papilio ulysses
    egg, magnified
    (Photo: courtesy of Renee Cremen, Cairns, Queensland)

    The eggs are white and spherical, laid singly on the upper suface of a leaf of the foodplant. The eggs darken as hatching approaches.

    Papilio ulysses
    ( Australia Post, 1998)
    Papilio ulysses
    ( Australia Post, 2003)
    Papilio ulysses
    ( Australia Post, 1981)

    Various races of the species are found across the south-west Pacific, including

  • New Caledonia,
  • New Guinea, and
  • Solomons,

    as well as the subspecies joesa Butler, 1869, in Australia in

  • northern Queensland.

    The live Ulysses butterflies in the rainforest along the tropical north-east coast of Australia are a popular tourist attraction, and images of the butterfly are popular decorations on everyday items.

    Tea Towel
    (courtesy of the Funky Koala Vintage Shop)

    Papilio ulysses      Papilio ulysses
    (Pictures: courtesy of Kraft and Instant Scratch Its)

    This species is the symbol of, and featured in, the Coffs Harbour Butterfly House. Butterflies of this species may be purchased for release at weddings, etc.

    Rearing this species regularly in captivity is difficult as the caterpillars are prone to attack by a contagious species-specific Microsporidian (a Nosoma species). This propagates even through indirect contact, and can accumulate in a closed environment over a period of two to three years to levels that cause 100% caterpillar mortality. So in a closed environment it is wise to rear only one caterpillar per foodplant, and to disinfect regularly eggs, foodplants, benches, etc., and source eggs from wild adults, for successful rearing in captivity. There seems to be no problem in wild populations probably because the caterpillars and adults are generally solitary, and only meet to mate.

    Papilio ulysses
    Australia Post 1998)

    Papilio ulysses
    (Australia Post 2004)

    Further reading :

    Michael F. Braby,
    Butterflies of Australia,
    CSIRO Publishing, Melbourne 2000, vol. 1, pp. 273-274.

    Jean Gundry,
    A Visit to the Butterfly House,
    Metamorphosis Australia,
    Issue 72 (March 2014), pp. 27-33,
    Butterflies and Other Invertebrates Club.

    Felix Jenkins,
    Note of Interest,
    Butterflies and Other Invertebrates Club,
    Newsletter, Issue 32 (March 2004), p. 19.

    Carl Linnaeus,
    Insecta Lepidoptera,
    Systema Naturae,
    Volume 1, Edition 10 (1760), Class 5, Part 3, p. 462, No. 20.

    Australian Butterflies
    Australian Moths

    (updated 25 October 2013, 28 December 2023)