A great egret looks for breakfast at Calamvale Creek


Scientific stuff

Blue tiger butterfly
Also known as blue wanderer butterfly

Tirumala hamata
Subfamily: Danainae
Family: Nymphalidae
Order: Lepidoptera

Large butterfly with black wings displaying either bright or pale blue stripes radiating from the thorax, and lighter blue spots all over the wings. (Photographs often incorrectly show the black as brown.)

Head and thorax are black with large numbers of light spots.

Blue tiger butterflies are essentially tropical, and can be seen in the tropics at most times of the year. But they migrate from north Australia to New South Wales — sometimes even to Victoria — for the summer, and then head north again in huge numbers for the warmer winter.

On their northern migration they have been reported in large numbers moving through Coffs Harbour in New South Wales in February, Caloundra and Noosa in Queensland in late March and April, and in Townsville in May.

7 centimetres
(3 inches).

Colonial. Likes travelling to distant places in extremely large groups.

Using our photos

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Belinda's photos

Belinda is a very pretty blue tiger butterfly with striking blue on her wings.

Although blue tiger butterflies are famous for travelling immense distances in large numbers along Australia's east coast, Belinda was the only blue tiger our photographer saw on this very hot day in March — although more appeared in April.

The photographer said:
“I was watching a large group of crow butterflies in a shady area around the creek just before noon on March 16.

“Suddenly I noticed a butterfly that had brilliant blue on it fluttering high among the trees.

“I was praying it would come down so I could get some photographs of it, and almost immediately it dropped and landed on a vine next to me.

“I gave it the name Belinda, which in Old Spanish means beautiful, because she looked so stunning among the dark shaded trees and vines.

“She let me get quite a number of good photographs of her before disappearing again among the high trees.

“When I returned about 15 minutes later she was still in the area, and again landed next to me and kept her wings open while I got more photos.”

Critters of Calamvale Creek

Belinda the blue tiger butterfly

Also known as blue wanderer butterfly

Tirumala hamata

Hello. I'm Belinda the blue tiger butterfly.

blue_tiger_butterfly_3 (32K)

You are lucky to see me in Calamvale Creek in Brisbane, Australia. Blue tiger butterflies don't often visit Brisbane, but when we do there are usually massive numbers of us travelling either south or north during our migration.

Where do I live?

blue_tiger_butterfly_2 (19K)I'm a tropical migratory butterfly, and generally live in northern Queensland. I have been south and have stopped off to check out Calamvale Creek on my way back north.

In a couple of weeks, large numbers of us will pass through the Sunshine Coast, and in May we will be passing Townsville as we follow the east coast.

In summer I like to visit creek areas near the coast, and in winter, when food plants for our larvae are in short supply, we often mass together in huge numbers in mangroves, gullies, or around shady moist creeks. We rest on stems, dead branches, and twigs, in shade near the ground. I love mangrove milkweed.

blue_tiger_butterfly_1 (32K)

I like the warm tropical north of Queensland. A large number of us make our home in the rainforest patch of James Cook University. Our group often breaks up if there is any rain in the dry season, then we re-form when the habitat dries out.

Best time to see us

Tirumala_hamata_4 (19K)Thousands of us can cluster together on trees and vines, even out on the Barrier Reef islands, giving the vegetation a beautiful blue-black appearance.

You are more likely to see us during very hot summers or when there are very hot days, because we are not biologically suited to cold climates.

We occasionally reach Victoria, but never South Australia. A number of us were reported near Broken Hill in February and March of 1974 during an abnormally humid summer.

Poisonous plants are important to us

Tirumala_hamata_6 (21K)The whole life cycle of blue tiger butterflies revolves around poison to various degrees.

The milkweed plants we feed on contain poisons, but our larvae are able to absorb this and keep it in their bodies to protect them from being picked off by birds.

The poisons get passed on to the pupa and then to the adult butterflies.

Of course we don't want to kill birds — we just want to make them sick so they won't eat us. Once they've tasted us, they'll never try it again. Some vomit almost immediately.

I do prefer certain types of plants, such as milkweed and milk vines, as Monarch butterflies do too. For my young caterpillars to feed on I like to find jungle vines from the family Asclepiadaceae.

Captain Cook's butterfly

blue_tiger_butterfly_5 (25K)Captain James Cook reported seeing masses of blue tiger butterflies as he sailed up the coast of Queensland in 1770.

We still accumulate in that area — such as on Magnetic Island, Brampton Island, and Cape Cleveland.

We are also found throughout tropical south-east Asia, in the Philippines, and in Sri Lanka.

We may live for 5 months or more, and make a spectacular addition to any butterfly collection.

— Belinda the blue tiger butterfly