Belenois java (Linnaeus, 1768)
Caper White
(formerly known as Anaphaeis java)
Don Herbison-Evans
Stella Crossley & Valda Dedman

Belenois java larva
various early instars
(Photo: courtesy of Ellen Reid, The Bible Museum, St Arnaud, Victoria)

The first instar Caterpillars of this species have a pale yellow body sparsely covered with long hairs, and a shiny black head. The mature caterpillar is dark brown tinged with green, decorated with pale dots and raised yellow spots. A fringe of long white hairs runs along each side of the body. The head is black with a pale 'V' shaped mark and yellow dots.

Belenois java larva
(Photo: courtesy of Martin Bennett, Chinchilla, Queensland)

The caterpillar has been found feeding on various members of the family CAPPARACEAE :

  • Currant Bush ( Apophyllum anomalum ),
  • Scrub Caper Berry ( Capparis arborea ),
  • Dog Caper ( Capparis canescens ),
  • Nipan ( Capparis lasiantha ),
  • Australian Native Orange ( Capparis mitchellii ),
  • Wild Orange ( Capparis sepiaria ),
  • Australian Native Caper ( Capparis spinosa ), and
  • Bush Orange ( Capparis umbonata )

    as well as

  • Australian Sandalwood ( Santalum spicatum, SANTALACEAE )

    Belenois java larva
    (Photo: courtesy of Don Ashton, Mudgeeraba, Queensland)

    We have found that the caterpillars are very economical. On average, each caterpillar ate about three medium sized leaves during their whole life cycle. This is very little compared with that eaten by some other caterpillars of comparable size, for example the various agricultural pest species in NOCTUIDAE.

    Belenois java pupa
    (Photo: courtesy of Don Ashton, Mudgeeraba, Queensland))

    After the caterpillar has eaten for about three weeks, it grows to a length of about 3 cms. It pupates on its foodplant. The pupa is white with black markings, and has a length of about 2.5 cms. In December in Melbourne, the adult butterfly emerges after about two weeks.

    Belenois java male

    (Specimens: courtesy of the The Australian Museum)

    The adult male butterfly has white wings. The upper and lower surfaces of the fore wings have a broad black apical patch, and the upper surfaces of the hind wings have a black terminal border. The black areas enclose white spots.

    (Photos: courtesy of Carol Buchanan, and Ted Cadwallader, respectively)

    The under surfaces of the hind wings are black except for white patches between the veins, and a yellow hind margin and a subterminal arc of yellow spots. The male wingspan is about 5 cms.

    (Photo: courtesy of Francis Hawkshaw)

    The adult females are larger, with a wingspan about 6 cms., and are variable in colour. Pale forms have the undersurfaces of their wings similar to those of the male, but can be distinguished from the male by the upper surfaces, which have wider black borders. Dark forms of the female have orange wing upper surfaces, with broad black borders containing white spots. Underneath, orange replaces white. All graduations between the pale and dark forms occur in the same population.

    Belenois java female

    (Specimens: courtesy of the The Australian Museum)

    The eggs are initially white, later turning orange, and are laid in a spaced group on the surface of a leaf of a food plant.

    Belenois java ova
    newly laid eggs on the left, mature eggs on the right
    (Photo: courtesy of Ellen Reid, The Bible Museum, St Arnaud, Victoria)

    The species is found as several subspecies across Asia including

  • South Korea,
  • Sulawesi,
  • Timor,
  • Vanuatu,
  • United Arab Emirates,

    and in Australia as two subspecies :

  • teutonia Fabricius, 1775, over much of Australia, and
  • peristhene Boisduval, 1859, along the eastern seaboard.

    Belenois java stamp
    Samoa 1986

    The food plants mainly grow wild in the northern two-thirds of continent. In spite of this, the Caper White butterfly frequently migrates south in summer. In October 1998, mass migrations occurred in Sydney. Migrations to Victoria happen more sporadically. but for example have been observed in November and in January. There are only a few Caper trees in Melbourne, and it is interesting that the butterflies locate these particular trees and lay eggs on them. How the butterflies find these few trees is unclear. Anyway, as a result of these migrations, the species is found all over the continent, including

  • Northern Territory,
  • Queensland,
  • Norfolk Island,
  • Lord Howe Island,
  • New South Wales,
  • Victoria,
  • Tasmania,
  • South Australia, and
  • Western Australia.

    Belenois java
    Caper Whites sheltering in a bush
    (Photo: copyright Valda Dedman Point Addis, Victoria)

    The male and female Caper White butterflies appear to migrate separately. For example, on 17 October 2000 at Point Addis, Victoria, 50-100 males were seen sheltering from the wind and rain, right on the cliff top. They were cold and inactive and could easily be picked up. Presumably they had come south the previous day on warm northerly winds. When the rain stopped for a few moments, one or two were observed hovering above the bush at the edge of the ocean. Another was on a bush, close to the ground, in the nearby Ironbark Basin. It, too, was cold and could easily be approached.

    Belenois java
    mating pair
    (Photo: courtesy of Buck Richardson, Kuranda, Queensland)

    Further reading :

    Carl Linnaeus,
    Iter Chinense,
    Amoenitates Academicae,
    Volume 7 (1768), p. 504, species "L".

    Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Dechauffour de Boisduval,
    Annales de la Société entomologique de France,
    Volume 3, Part 7 (1859), p. CLV, No. 4.

    Michael F. Braby,
    Butterflies of Australia,
    CSIRO Publishing, Melbourne 2000, vol. 1, pp. 321-322.

    Johan Christian Fabricius,
    Historiae Natvralis Favtoribvs,
    Systema Entomologiae,
    Flensburgi et Lipsiae (1775), p. 474, No. 137.

    Frank Jordan & Helen Schwencke,
    Create More Butterflies : a guide to 48 butterflies and their host-plants
    Earthling Enterprises, Brisbane, 2005, p. 10.

    Buck Richardson,
    Tropical Queensland Wildlife from Dusk to Dawn Science and Art,
    LeapFrogOz, Kuranda, 2015, p. 222.

    Australian Butterflies
    Australian Moths

    (updated 5 January 2010, 20 September 2013, 19 March 2015, 28 December 2019, 10 June 2020, 12 March 2021)