Ulysses Butterfly – Species Profile & Facts

There are over 17,500 species of butterflies worldwide, 750 of which live in the US. Keeping track of all these different species is impossible as a butterfly lover, given that they are all unique with a variety of amazing features.

Today, we will discuss the Ulysses Butterfly, one of the most fascinating species out there. We will look into its reproductive cycle, diet, behavior, appearance, and other facts that will allow us to create the butterfly’s complete profile.

First things first.

How to Recognize a Ulysses Butterfly?

The Ulysses butterfly is one of those insects displaying a simple yet highly recognizable pattern, making it almost impossible to mistake it for another species. The butterfly displays 2 primary colors, blue and black. The pattern is similar in almost all specimens, with the black covering the margins of its wings, accentuating the electric blue that the Ulysses is so famous for.

The butterfly’s body is green-ish with a long tail and thin and black antennae. The lower portion of its wings has 2 tight lobes, prolonging outwards. This design makes it seem as if the butterfly’s wings are covered in tar, dripping off in thick drops.

It’s also worthy of noting that, despite the simple look, all Ulysses butterflies are different. A closer inspection will reveal subtle pattern variations in the coloring and wing shape, spread, and size.

What Does a Ulysses Butterfly Caterpillar Looks Like?

If you know anything about butterflies, you already know that caterpillars look nothing like the adults. It’s why butterflies are often used to represent the idea of the ugly giving birth to something beautiful. However, the Ulysses caterpillar is only ugly compared to the butterfly’s adult form; otherwise, it has its own beauty.

The caterpillar is green, meaty, and displays a pattern of white spots on its back. Its most distinct features include the white, thick collar covering its nape and the 2 white tiny thorns on its rear end. Various caterpillars will display different shades of green and sizes, depending on the development stage, but all will have the distinct spotted pattern on their back.

Many of them also have subtle blue spots on the side for each body segment.

How Big Does Ulysses Butterfly Get?

The adult Ulysses butterfly can reach a wingspan of 5.5 inches, ranking this species among the larger ones. The butterfly’s size will also vary depending on subspecies, as western ones are typically slightly larger.

Combine the butterfly’s impressive size with its bright blue flashes displaying in mid-flight, and you can see why this species is so beloved. Its size, coloring, and overall impressive presence have made the butterfly the emblem of Queensland, Australia.

Where do Ulysses Butterflies Live?

The Ulysses butterfly is not as widespread as other species. Its main living areas include Australia, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Indonesia. The butterfly prefers tropical environments with warm and humid weather and shows difficulties adapting to other types of environments.

It’s one of the main reasons why you need a permit to breed Ulysses butterflies in Australia. The other reason has to do with its dwindling numbers resulting from the destruction of its habitat. The Ulysses butterfly used to be endangered, but constant conservation efforts have lifted this status over the years.

What do Ulysses Butterflies Eat?

Compared to other butterfly species, the Ulysses butterfly has little variation in its diet. The adults prefer to consume nectar from the pink-flowered doughwood; little else has been observed regarding its adult feeding preferences.

The caterpillars prefer Euodia and kerosene wood (sea trumpet).

This is a rather acceptable feeding behavior, compared to other butterflies. Most butterflies prefer nectar and sweet fruits and liquids, which they will absorb via their long and mobile proboscis. But they also suck on muddy puddles to satisfy their bodies’ need for minerals and enjoy the liquids of animal corpses for additional nutrients.

Which reinforces the idea of butterflies being both beautiful and gracious and disgusting and ugly under specific circumstances.

What Plants Attract Ulysses Butterfly?

Attracting Ulysses butterflies to your garden is a sure way of enriching your home’s charm tenfold. To achieve that, you must first learn what plants are the Ulysses butterflies most attracted to. This is an important aspect since butterflies don’t all appreciate the same plants.

Ixora is a great option, especially thanks to its vivid colors. Ixora has small flowers with tiny, sharp petals and comes in red, orange, and pink variations. It will make a fine contrast with the Ulysses butterfly’s electric blue.

Geijera is another good option, despite its rather bland look. Its flowers display subtle nuances of white, but the tree makes up for its lack of coloring via its rich, bushy look. You can also use Halfordia Kendack, which is a small plant producing tiny white flowers and dark-blue fruits.

As a general rule, remember that the Ulysses butterfly is mostly attracted by red, pink, purple, and variations of these colors. Keep your garden colorful and plant-rich, and the butterflies won’t hesitate to visit you.

How do Ulysses Butterflies Reproduce?

The Ulysses butterfly’s reproductive cycle undergoes several rather common phases. These include:

  • The mating dance – The male Ulysses butterfly will initially detect the female’s mating pheromones and follow the trail to meet its sweetheart. The male will then use visual cues to pinpoint the female’s location and dive in for the ‘kill.’ Male butterflies are biologically built to spot blue, an ability that can get them into trouble since they are attracted to anything displaying this color.
  • Laying the eggs – After mating, the female will lay its eggs on small plants up to 6 feet tall. You can observe the tiny, white eggs placed in a small conglomerate on the plant’s leaves. The female will choose the plants that will serve as food for the larvae, primarily Euodia. The eggs will change their coloring over time, becoming darker when getting close to hatch.
  • The larval stage – The small caterpillars will begin eating as soon as they’re born. They are small, green, with bulky heads and the distinct white, spotted pattern on their back. The appearance changes slightly as they grown, but they retain the same coloring pattern. Ulysses caterpillars will eat a lot since they require the excess of nutrients to serve them during the pupa stage.
  • The pupa stage – Once the larvae have grown enough, they will begin to pupate on the very plants that they’ve been feeding on. You will observe the small chrysalis hanging from the plant, measuring up to 1.5 inches in length. It’s small, green, and oval-looking, blending in within the plant’s coloring, which functions as camouflage.
  • The adult stage – The adult butterfly will emerge from the chrysalis and rest for a few hours to dry out and gain strength. The butterfly will have its wings folded and small and will use the resting period to pump them with blood. The blood vessels will inflate the wings, pumping them to their natural size, at which point the butterfly will fly away. Adults are born fliers and will spend most of their time in the air.

In essence, there’s nothing special about the Ulysses butterfly’s reproductive cycle, with one special mention – the female will only lay the eggs on the Euodia leaves. This behavior is due to the larvae’s specialized food preference, which is one of the Ulysses butterfly’s weaknesses. It makes the butterfly prone to endangerment since destroying Euodia cultures will dramatically disrupt the insect’s reproductive cycle.

Where do Ulysses Butterfly Lay Their Eggs?

Ulysses females will typically lay their eggs on Euodia leaves since these constitute the larvae’s main source of food. But they may also lay then on the leaves of small trees and other plants, no taller than 6 feet.

Are Ulysses Butterflies Rare?

Compared to other butterfly species, yes, they are rather rare. One of the reasons is their specialized environmental preferences. You can only find Ulysses butterflies in certain areas around the Globe, primarily in tropical areas around Australia, Indonesia, and the Solomon Islands. They won’t leave their native areas since they haven’t adapted to well to other environments.

Another reason for their scarcity would be their breeding and feeding behavior. Ulysses butterflies have specialized feeding and breeding, as they only rely on several plants and flowers to survive. The females need to find their larvae’s preferred plants to lay their eggs, and the adults-only feed on nectar from several flowers in their environment.

Is the Ulysses Butterfly Endangered?

Not anymore. At one point, the Ulysses butterfly was on the endangered species list, as deforestation and the destruction of the butterfly’s habitat pushed its population to the brink. To fix the problem, authorities resorted to increasing the number of pink-flowered doughwood, which allowed the butterflies to recover.

The situation is no longer critical at this point, but it remains uncertain due to the reduction in Euodia trees, which butterflies use during their reproductive cycle.

How Long do Ulysses Butterflies Live?

The Ulysses butterfly’s total lifespan is around 8 months, counting all its developmental phases. The adult lives around 4 weeks tops, during which its primary goal is to mate and pass on its genes. The male will die shortly after mating with the female and the female will have the same faith shortly after laying its eggs.

The longest growth period is the larval one. Larvae will feed for several months, growing and preparing for pupation. After they pupate, the adults’ lifespan will vary depending on the subspecies, environmental conditions, and how fast they can mate.

If the male meets a female 2 weeks into its adult life, it will no longer life past that point. If it doesn’t get the chance to mate, which can happen, it won’t live past 4 weeks anyway.

What is the Meaning of Ulysses Butterfly?

Ulysses was the name of the famous Greek hero mentioned by Homer in his Greek stories. The hero’s Greek name is Odysseus, and the Roman one is Ulysses. The relation between Ulysses and the butterfly is unclear, but it doesn’t matter anyway. It’s undeniable that the association provides the butterfly with an aura of greatness and royalty that few other insects get.

Is the Ulysses Butterfly Poisonous?

Yes. The female Ulysses butterfly displays a yellow abdomen and metallic-blue wings that inform other insects of its poisonous nature. Unfortunately, that doesn’t work against birds, who will take the butterfly’s blue as a meal invitation. This makes this particular butterfly species more fidgety than others, causing it to fly more often and for longer periods.

At the same time, the butterfly will avoid spreading its wings when resting whenever possible since the blue is only visible on the top.

Interesting Facts About the Ulysses Butterfly

If everything you’ve found out so far hasn’t blown your mind yet, the following section most likely will. Here are some interesting facts about the Ulysses butterfly that you will be pleased to know:

  • Using camouflage – The Ulysses butterfly is easy prey for insect-eating birds who will notice its trademark blue from huge distances. For this reason, these butterflies tend to keep their wings folded when resting. The underside of their wings displays shades of brown and dark yellow, which are less strident. This helps the butterfly become less visible, especially since folding its wings will minimize its body’s profile.
  • Constant flying – Unfortunately, the butterfly’s camouflaging technique isn’t as effective compared to camouflage-proficient insects like mantids, leaf insects, stick insects, etc. Most birds will attack resting butterflies; to avoid this unfortunate scenario, the Ulysses butterfly tends to fly longer and more often than other species. The butterfly is constantly on a journey, if you will, which is probably what links this species to the immortal myth of Odysseus.
  • Flying shortens its lifespan – This is true for all butterflies. The longer a butterfly flies, the shorter its lifespan. This is because wings wear off with time, losing their scales and diminishing their effectiveness. This is more prevalent for the Ulysses butterfly, who flies a lot more than other species. It explains why adult Ulysses butterflies only live around 2 weeks, with 4 being the maximum.
  • Keeping them as pets is difficult – Aside from the fact that Ulysses butterflies are endemic to rather exotic areas, they are also under law protection. You need special permits to grow or breed them. You can, however, find ways around the issue. Lure them to your garden if you already live in the same areas with Ulysses butterflies. It’s a cost-effective, headache-free way of housing groups of Ulysses butterflies without really housing them.

Conclusion

Ulysses butterflies are the largest species in Australia and are only found on several spots around the Globe. Thanks to their size, rarity, looks, and short lifespans, they are highly prized in the insect world.

Too bad you can’t own some without having to traverse the Globe.

Butterflies   Updated: January 20, 2022
avatar Welcome to Insectic, a blog to learn about insects and bugs. I'm Richard, and I've created this website to share my experience, knowledge, and passion with others.

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