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Fly Neighbourly Advice for the Tasman National Park


Public comment is invited on the draft Tasman National Park Fly Neighbourly Advice. The draft Fly Neighbourly Advice has been prepared by the Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service in response to increasing air traffic over the Tasman National Park.More

Hybrid diesel-electric shuttle buses at Cradle Mountain - a first for National p


When you next visit Cradle Mountain you will be able to step aboard one of the new hybrid, diesel-electric, shuttle buses on your trip to Dove Lake. These new buses will reduce emissions and deliver a quieter, all mobility friendly, visitor experience.More

AFAC Independent Operational Review of the 2018-19 bushfires


Following the 2018-19 bushfires the Tasmanian Government commissioned an independent report by the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Council to review the overall response and identify areas where more can be done to improve the State's response andMore


Macleays Swallowtail
Photo by Ram Nirup
With over 20 000 species worldwide, over 400 in Australia and just 39 known species in Tasmania, these beautiful flying insects belong to the order Lepidoptera (Lepidos is Greek for "scales" and ptera means "wing"). 

Butterflies are capable fliers. The fastest butterflies (some skippers) can fly at about 50 kilometres per hour or faster. The Wanderer (or Monarch) butterfly is known to fly distances of over 4000 km during its migration. 

Butterfly or Moth?

The great majority of Lepidopterans are moths. There are a number of features which allow you to distinguish between moths and butterflies: 
  • Butterflies have knobbed antennae, while those of moths range from straight filaments to feathery or branched, but they are never knobbed. 
  • Butterflies have smooth, slender bodies; moths tend to be more hairy. 
  • Most butterflies fly during the day, while most moths fly at night. 
  • Butterflies generally rest with their wings held upright, while moths spread their wings out horizontally. 

Tasmanian Butterflies 

Butterflies prefer warm climates. Consequently their world distribution is largely centered around the tropical regions. 

Most Tasmanian species are found in the warmer eastern half of the island, although there are a number of species found on mountain tops. Adaptations to the alpine zone include dark colouration, increased hairiness and hibernation under snow during the larval or pupal stage. 

Basking in the warmth of the sun is a common behaviour of butterflies, with many species orientating to the sun in sunlit areas and opening their wings to maintain the body temperature needed for flight. 

Many species are migratory and their appearance in Tasmania is associated with breeding success on the mainland and the prevelance of north-westerly winds. Some species migrate altitudinally, feeding on nectar at the tops of mountains and moving to the lowlands to breed. 

Skippers (Family Hesperiidae) 
Skippers derive their name from their fast, erratic flight. Eleven species breed in Tasmania. Larvae tend to feed upon grasses and sedges. 

Swallowtails (Family Papilionidae) 
Swallowtails include some of the most spectacular butterflies. Only a single species, the Macleays Swallowtail (Graphium macleayanum), is found in Tasmania. It is associated with its food tree, the sassafras, a dominant tall tree of cool temperate rainforests.

Family Pieridae
Known as Whites or Yellows, two species of this family are known as rare visitors as vagrants, while the introduced Cabbage White (Pieris rapae) has become well established in Tasmania. It is widespread across Europe, North Africa and Asia and has also been accidentally introduced to North America, Australia and New Zealand. This species preferred foodplant include cabbages, boccoli and other brassicas - much to the annoyance of vegetable growers. 

Family Nymphalidae 
This large family includes the Wanderer or Monarch butterfy (Danaus plexippus), well-known for its massive and wide-ranging migrations. It is often found in Tasmania as a vagrant. First noted in Australia in 1871, the Wanderer only became established when its food plants, including the poisonous milkweed, were also introduced. The poison from these is ingested and carried throughout the butterfly's life cycle, making both the caterpillar and the adult unpalatable to most predators. 

There are 14 species within the family in Tasmania. Other members include the Hobart Brown (Argynnina hobartia), which is endemic to Tasmania; the Leprea Brown (Nesoxenica leprea), the only butterfly genus restricted to Tasmania; and the endemic Ptunarra brown butterfly (Oreixenica ptunarra), which is is listed as vulnerable under the Tasmanian Threatened Species Protection Act 1995. 

The Ptunarra Brown is confined to a handful of sites in native grasslands and grassy woodlands in the Midlands, Northwest Plains and Central Plateau. Loss of this habitat through land clearing, grazing by stock and the introduction of exotic pasture grasses have caused the numbers of butterflies to decline. See our threatened species pages for details of what is being done to conserve the species.

Family Lycaenidae
Nine species of Blues (as members of the family are commonly known) are found in Tasmania. The colours of these small butterflies can vary from brown, orange and blue. 

Many species of this family are involved in a fascinating, mutually beneficial relationship with ants. Ants are normally predators of butterfly larvae, however lycaenids have evolved ways to overcome predation. Their relationship with ants can be mutualistic, parasitic, or predatory, depending on the species. Some of the larvae of Tasmanian species secrete substances attractive to ants which appear to be so desirable that the ants provide protection to the larvae. 

Not all lycaenid butterflies need ants, but certain members of this family can only complete their life cycle in association with particular ant species. This is termed a myrmecophilous (love of ants) relationship. 

Further Information
 Collier, P. (ed). (1994) Butterflies of Tasmania Tasmanian Field Naturalists Club Inc.