Butterfly of the Month - February 2023
The Splendid Ochre (Trapezites symmomus symmomus) is the first Skipper to be described in this series of butterfly introductions, but will not be the last. It belongs to the second largest of our butterfly families, the Hesperiidae. It is common in Brisbane.
The butterfly has wingspan ranges from 42mm (male) to 46mm (female). Dark brown dominates the upper wing colour, offset by yellow and orange markings. The underside of the wings varies a little and may be reddish brown or have an orange tinge, on rare occasions you may encounter an aberration with a light pink patch located between arrangements of white spots which are highlighted by a black line surrounding them.
You will encounter the Splendid Ochre usually close the ground with the male patrolling the host plant in expectation of encountering a female newly emerged from its pupa. It appears that males patrol in the morning and guard their territory in the afternoon by perching in nearby vegetation. Hill-topping is not part of this butterfly's mating ritual.
The life cycle starts with a tiny white egg, no more than 1.5mm in size, showing longitudinal ribs, and changing colour to a cream with dark reddish brown patches. Single eggs are seldom laid on the fresh leaves of the host plant. Oviposition happens on parts of the dry leaf litter surrounding that plant. On occasion eggs are placed on the white part of the host at the plant base or on the then seed carrying dry part of the flowerhead.
The larvae are night feeders. To protect themselves during daytime they form little shelters between leaves of the host plant when young. Advanced instar stages use roll up dead or fresh leaves, both use silk to connect them plant parts and to line their own little ‘chamber’. The butterfly pupates in those shelters among leaf litter at the base of the host plant or – sometimes – at a distance of several metres.
In Brisbane the preferred and commonly used host plant is Lomandra longifolia. Only occasionally will the larvae feed on other Lomandra species like L. hystrix, L. filiformis, L. spicata.
Images: CM-Cliff Meyer; PC-Peter Chew, Brisbane Insects; RF-Ross Field CC BY 3.0au; SH-Simon Hinkley CC B 3.0au, Museum Victoria