Delias aganippe (Donovan, 1805)
Spotted Jezebel
Don Herbison-Evans
Stella Crossley

Delias aganippe
early instars
(Photo: courtesy of R.P.Field Museum Victoria)

This Caterpillar initially is pale brown with white hairs, and black head and tail. Later, its body becomes nearly black, with white spots out of which grow white hairs.

Delias aganippe
late instars
(Photo: courtesy of R.P.Field Museum Victoria)

It feeds gregariously in a sparse web on various species of Australian Native Cherry ( SANTALACEAE ), including :

  • Leafless Ballart ( Exocarpos aphyllus ),
  • Dwarf Cherry ( Exocarpos strictus ),
  • Cherry Ballart ( Exocarpos cupressiformis ),
  • Sweet Quandong ( Santalum acuminatum ),
  • Northern Sandalwood ( Santalum lanceolatum ), and
  • Australian Sandalwood ( Santalum spicatum ),

    as well as various species of Mistletoe ( LORANTHACEAE ), including :

  • Sheoak Mistletoe ( Amyema cambagei ),
  • Buloke Mistletoe ( Amyema linophylla ),
  • Melaleuca Mistletoe ( Amyema melaleucae ),
  • Box Mistletoe ( Amyema miquelii ),
  • Wire-leaved Mistletoe ( Amyema preissii ), and
  • Grey Mistletoe ( Amyema quandang ).

    The caterpillar is a problem for growers of plantation Australian sandalwood (Santalum spicatum hosted against Acacia acuminata) in the wheat belt about 2 hours east of Perth WA. Sandalwood was native to the area until cut out to extinction early in the 1900s. The growers were concerned about their first sandalwood trees seeded in autumn of 2003.

    The trees were invaded by the Wood White Butterfly caterpillar (Delias aganippe) with seriously damaging results. This is mostly but not always to the average size tree, not so much on the more vigorous growth bigger trees, and not so much on the smaller trees, although the smaller single stem trees are where the most damage in percentage of foliage terms occurred.

    There was also a bad infestation in 2004 in November, and rather than using insecticide the owners of one plantation took to the plantation with gloves and walked the full plantation squashing the caterpillars. An 18 km walk!.

    Meanwhile the butterfly is popular with butterfly breeders for commercial release, and the breeding cycle has been extensively studied by Ellen Reid ( Bible Museum, St Arnaud, Victoria).

    Delias aganippe
    (Photo: courtesy of Ellen Reid, Bible Museum, St Arnaud, Victoria).

    The caterpillar grows to a length of about 4 cms. It pupates often in a group on a twig of the foodplant. The pupa is attached by a cremaster and girdle, and is mottled brown and white. The eclosing of a male butterfly has been filmed and put on Youtube by Ellen Reid.

    Delias aganippe
    upper surface of male adult
    (Photo: courtesy of Kathy at Dongara, Western Australia)

    The wings have silver-grey the upper surfaces that have wide black margins containing a subterminal band of white spots.

    Delias aganippe
    (Specimen: courtesy of the The Australian Museum)

    The females have an additional black spot near the centre of each forewing. Underneath both sexes are white, red, yellow, and black.

    Delias aganippe
    underside of female
    (Specimen: courtesy of the The Australian Museum)

    The butterfly has a wingspan of up to 7 cms.

    Delias aganippe
    (Photo: courtesy of Martin Purvis, Sydney, New South Wales)

    The eggs are are yellow, ribbed, and bottle shaped with a height of about 1.4 mm. They are laid in clusters on a foodplant.

    Delias aganippe
    (Photo: courtesy of Jenni Horsnell, Wagga Wagga, New South Wales)

    The species is found over most of the southern half of mainland Australia, including

  • Northern Territory,
  • southern Queensland,
  • New South Wales,
  • Victoria, and
  • South Australia, and
  • the southern half of Western Australia.

    Delias aganippe
    ( Australia Post, 1981)

    Further reading :

    Michael F. Braby,
    Butterflies of Australia,
    CSIRO Publishing, Melbourne 2000, vol. 1, pp. 341-342.

    Edward Donovan,
    General Illustration of Entomology,
    An Epitome of the Natural History of the Insects of New Holland, New Zealand, New Guinea, Otaheite and other Islands in the Indian, Southern and Pacific Oceans,
    Volume 1 (1805), p. 133, and also Plate p. 132.

    Australian Butterflies
    Australian Moths

    (updated 7 December 2012, 29 December 2023)