Monday, January 9, 2012

Swallowtails and their Food Plants

Hey ya'll 

It is general knowledge, that the caterpillars of each butterfly species will generally only feast on the leaves of specific host plants, but while the host plants of each lepidoptera species may indeed be as varied as the actual number of flora there are in the world, it does not escape my notice that many butterflies from within the same family actually share similar, if not same, larval food plants as one another. Many of the black bodied swallowtails that I have been raising for some time now, for instance, feed on various species of rutaceae (citrus) plants. Indeed this was something I discovered through something of an accident when a batch of Papilio demoleus (lime butterfly) eggs I was raising hatched a handful of Papilio polytes (common mormon butterfly) larvae as well, which led me to speculate that some wild common mormon female must have deposited her eggs upon the same host plant as the lime butterfly. Indeed, over the years I have experimented on various swallowtail larvae and found out that a large majority of Malaysian butterflies from the family papilio will indeed feed on rutacea, even though their eggs were originally deposited on host plants of other origins. Below are a list of some of the swallowtails I have raised which feed on such:

Lime butterfly (Papilio demoleus)
Common mormon (Papilio polytes)
Great mormon (Papilio memnon)
Red Helen (Papilio helenus)
Great Helen (Papilio iswara)

Needless to say this makes it easier for me to breed these insects as citrus plants are relatively easy to obtain in our country and similarly easy to cultivate. As it stands, I have about ten healthy citrus trees growing in the front yard today which is a reassurance that I will never run out of food for the voracious little larvae! 

Newly eclosed red helen swallowtail (Papilio helenus)
Red helen swallowtail (Papilio helenus) with Common mormon male (Papilio polytes)
As a contemplative end-note, though, I wonder if this is any indication that many of these butterfly species do indeed share a common ancestor, the most basic form of papilio which fed on rutaceae that then diversified as its members spread across various locales and regions across the globe. As I have not much intellectual background on such matters, I can only speculate for now and hope that some day I will come across in my musings, some piece of information that would shed light on the subject as such.

Meanwhile, Term is starting soon which means my first day as a university teacher looms ever closer. Having not yet received even the syllabus for the semester, I am more than a little apprehensive although part of me likes to be optimistic and think... well, I've done all of these subjects before, and aced them with flying colours... how bad could it be? Wish me luck everyone!

ps. Ray will be leaving China today for Sibu, which is in East Malaysia. I heard there's been floods so I hope it won't be too much of an inconvenience.


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