Perhaps the most popular insect of the Wet Tropics is the Ulysses butterfly (Papilio ulysses), an unmistakable creature with brilliant electric blue upper wings, trimmed in black. A large swallowtail species, the Ulysses can be seen throughout the region in rainforest and suburban gardens.
The Ulysses caterpillar is thickset, a lovely grass green colour with a banana yellow collar and spots. Its favourite food plant is a handsome tree with clusters of small pink flowers growing straight out of the branches. The tree is called the Euodia (Melicope elleryana) and its floral rewards are also the favourite of many birds and flying foxes.
The Cairns Birdwing (Ornithoptera priamus) is the largest butterfly in Australia with a wingspan of over 16cm. The upper wings of the males are black with emerald green streaks across the length of the pointed wing. The female lacks the green but makes up for it with her greater size. Both sexes have yellow bodies with a bright red thorax (the body part just behind the head).
Residents who plant the native rainforest vine, dutchman's pipe (Aristolochia tagala), in their garden will encourage regular visits by this impressive butterfly. However, beware of the exotic dutchman's pipe (Aristolochia elegans) which is poisonous to the Cairns birdwing.
The caterpillar of the attractive red lacewing (Cethosia cydippe) is a striking black with solid yellow stripes. Adults have a large red patch on their upper wings followed by a white steak and bordered in black. The lower edges of their wings are scalloped and trimmed with black and white. Their pupa is a drab brown except for specs of metallic gold on one side. Another rainforest vine serves as their favoured food plant and it is called the adenia (Adenia heterophylla) or lacewing vine (after the butterfly). Red fruits similar to a persimmon or tamarillo are a feature of this vine, making it an attractive addition to the garden.
The orchard butterfly is one of the larger species of the region and it can also be found along the east coast of Australia. It is mostly black with some white towards the end of the wings. It's favoured food plants are citrus trees which make it a commonly seen visitor to backyard gardens and, of course, orchards. The 5cm caterpillar is attractive being mostly green with bands of white and dark brown and some small spines down the back.