Butterflies under threat
Apollo jewel butterfly
Many of the butterflies and moths found in the Wet Tropics area are common, but there are some exceptions. The Apollo jewel butterfly is confined to coastal paperbark swamps and is being seriously threatened by clearing for large scale developments. Additionally, this butterfly is dependent on the native ants which live exclusively in the anthouse plant (Myrmecodia beccarii). These ants are gradually being displaced by introduced ants which do not interact with the larvae of the Apollo jewel butterfly. It also appears that collectors are having an impact on the butterfly and the anthouse plants upon which it relies.
An interesting problem affects the caterpillars of the Cairns birdwing. Its favourite foodplant is the dutchman's pipe (Aristolochia tagala). This plant is actually toxic but the birdwing's larvae are able to assimilate the toxins without harm. In South America, another member of the aristolochia genus exists and it is also toxic (Aristolochia elegans). The South American counterpart has now been introduced to Australia and is establishing itself in the wild. The problem is that our birdwing butterflies are attracted to it because is sends out the same chemical attractants as the native species. When the caterpillars start to feed on the leaves, however, they are poisoned and die. Harvesting by collectors has also prompted the listing of some common species including the Ulysses butterfly and the Cairns birdwing on the state's protected wildlife lists.
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