Habitat: Tropical rainforests and suburban gardens

Distribution: Tropical North Queensland in Australia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands

Lifespan: 8 months

Conservation status: Threatened but not endangered

Main threats: Habitat loss


The Ulysses butterfly (Papilio ulysses), or blue mountain swallowtail butterfly, (also commonly known as the Blue Emperor), is a large swallowtail butterfly. 

It's easily recognised in the Daintree by its vibrant electric blue colouring and sizeable wingspan, which is usually around 14 cm (5.5 inches). While the top side of its wings dazzles, the bottom is a muted contrast of black and brown hues. This striking colouration is due to the tiny scale structure on the wings which creates an effect known as structural colouration.

The colouration of the female Ulysses butterfly tends to be less vivid. In flight, their high altitude allows for occasional glimpses of their stunning colours through the canopy. When they settle their wings fold together, casting a 'shadow-like' appearance for camouflage.

The male Ulysses butterfly has a notable attraction to blue, which it is drawn to from as far as 30 metres away. This remarkable trait highlights its keen sense of colour perception.

Fun fact: This butterfly is used as an emblem for tourism in Queensland, Australia.


Adult Ulysses butterflies are often seen sipping nectar from the blossoms of the pink-flowered doughwood, a tree adorned with small pink blooms that burst from its branches. The caterpillars of the Ulysses butterfly feast on plants like kerosene wood, various citrus species, and Euodia.

The male Ulysses butterfly's attraction to the colour blue and its eagerness to breed will influence it to land on any blue object and potentially find a mate. In a captivating display of nature's rituals, the male Ulysses butterfly performs a courtship dance designed to woo the female. If she accepts his advances, they will mate. Tragically, this dance of love is the male's final act, having fulfilled his role in the cycle of life.

The female will deposit her eggs on the tender leaves of young trees, ideally over 2 metres tall. These eggs give rise to caterpillars that voraciously consume the leaves. 

Caterpillar: A fully grown caterpillar boasts a lustrous green hue, adorned with creamy white spots and a subtle blue patch that becomes visible within each segment during movement.  This intricate pattern adds to the caterpillar's unique charm as it transitions through its life stages.

Chrysalis: The chrysalis of this species is securely fastened by its tail to a silken pad and encircled by a girdle at its midsection. Exhibiting a palette that ranges from green to light brown with hints of orange, the chrysalis is distinguished by two striking horns atop its head. This unique structure is a defining feature as it prepares for its final transformation.

Having a connected rainforest is crucial to the long-term survival of this species. You can help protect Ulysses butterfly habitat in the Daintree. Find out how.

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