Wildlife Photography with marysejansenart
Colourful companions during my walks on Cape Pallarenda
It is a regular occurrence here, during my walks in the Town Common Conservation Park on Cape Pallarenda, that I am surrounded by a myriad of butterflies. It is quite an amazing sight, especially the large numbers of the Marsh Tiger and Tawny Coster. And apart from those two, there are also lots of other species big and small fluttering about.
The Marsh Tiger is also known as Swamp Tiger or Mangrove Tiger. It can be found in north-eastern Australia. To avoid confusion I will give you the scientific name as well, which is Danaus affinis. It has a lot of variation in colouring across its range from south-east Asia into north-east Australia. Asian forms have a lot more orange, while this Australian form has more white.
I am not a butterfly specialist but I am intrigued by how their looks resemble those of the Common Crow and the Blue Tiger, but in name they are closer related to the Wanderer (aka Monarch Butterfly) and Lesser Wanderer. All of those species I have encountered on earlier walks and shared in my video series ‘Come for a walk in the Australian Bush’. If you’d like to take a look at them and check out their similarity in appearance, use the following links to my videos: Common Crow, Monarch, Lesser Wanderer, Blue Tiger.
Upon further investigation I find that they are all related and all belong to the subfamily Danainae – Milkweed Butterflies. Within that subfamily they also belong to the same tribe, which is “Danaini – Tigers and Crows”. Within this tribe we can distinguish how they belong to different genera. The Blue Tiger belongs to the genus Tirumala, the Common Crow belongs to the genus Euploea and the Monarch, the Lesser Wanderer and the Marsh Tiger all belong to the genus Danaus!
This place is popular with the Marsh Tiger. As they sit, hidden between the high grass blades they are not easily spotted but when I walk past, suddenly they all fly up. I am then temporarily surrounded by them, fluttering about, until they settle on a new spot. During my walks in this area this happens repeatedly. It is a beautiful treat of nature!
I catch a pair of them with my camera as they are mating, while sitting on a blade of grass. When their wings are open, there are only white spots visible on the dark surface. But in this image, with their wings closed, you can see the beautiful white and orange patterns that mark the underside of their wings!
I walk on and I spot a Blue Tiger and a couple of Glasswings as well. And lots of smaller species like little whites and yellows. When I reach an open, grassy area it’s suddenly teeming with beautiful bright orange butterflies which I have not seen before. It turns out they are called Tawny Costers (Acraea terpsicore) and they have a story!
But before I tell you about that, note that the Tawny Coster is closely related to the Glasswing Buttefly as they share the genus Acreae! Passiflora ..
The Tawny Coster is the 3rd ever species of butterfly that was new to Australia and has managed to become established. The first was the Wanderer or Monarch Butterfly which has been in Australia since 1871, made possible by the introduction of its host plant, the milkweed plant. The Cabbage White Butterfly was accidentally introduced with vegetable imports in 1929. And finally, the Tawny Coster made its way from south-east Asia, presumably on its own wings, to settle in northern Australia in 2012. It has kept on expanding southwards ever since and in 2021 it was spotted as far south as Brisbane for the first time.
Nobody knows for sure how it got here, but it started in India and Sri Lanka and has spread across south-east Asia on its own. It’s capable of flying long distances, so it is assumed that it is a natural occurrence that it made it to Australia. It has been suggested that some individuals have had some help crossing the Timor Sea from cyclone Debbie.
While the Cabbage White causes problems with farmers and gardeners, by their caterpillars feeding on cabbages and wreaking havoc on the harvest, so far the Tawny Coster doesn’t seem to cause too many problems. Like the Glasswing Butterfly, the Tawny Coster feeds on Passiflora plant species (passionfruit), some varieties of this plant are also introduced.
Male Tawny Costers are more deeply orange coloured and females are a paler orange. The warm male colour is truly spectacular as you can see in the featured image! You can also admire them on video by watching the latest epsisode of ‘Come for a walk in the Australian Bush’ below. Footage of the Marsh Tiger will occur in next week’s episode, so stay tuned!
Did you know there are over 400 species of butterflies in Australia? Most of these are found in the tropics!
If you are interested in purchasing the featured image ‘Tawny Coster’ or would like to see what the image looks like on the various products, please head to my shop. If you’d prefer ‘Marsh Tiger’, ‘Marsh Tigers Mating’, or would like to see my other images of Australian Butterflies check out my collection of ‘Australian Insects‘.