Australia’s butterflies are beautiful and interesting. Almost half of the 416+ butterflies found in Australia are endemic – ie. they live nowhere else (1). But where and when is best to see butterflies in southern Australia?
The best places to see butterflies in southern Australia are where there are large areas of rainforest.
Around Melbourne and Victoria, the best place to see butterflies is East Gippsland. East Gippsland has a high diversity of butterflies: over 75 species are recorded in the area (2). This is over half of Victoria’s total species (3), in just 9% of the land area.
Some of our most frequently-seen and showy butterflies. They tend to be fairly large, and their habit of flying in the sunshine and resting with wings open make them obvious. Most species have some orange or brown in wings. Many have eye-spots (ocelli) in the wings which helps identification. Antennae close together at base.
A beautiful butterfly with a surprising blue patch on the upper wing. They like to bask on the ground with wings outspread, making for great photographs.
Best time to see: We have seen them in January and March.
Habitat: Very wide distribution in all types of habitats, coastal, open forest & grassland and town gardens.
Larval (caterpillar) food: Goodenia, Scaevola, Plantago sp. (plantains), Verbena sp. and others including introduced plants like Centaury. Read more and see caterpillars here.
A gorgeous richly-coloured butterfly, with orange yellow and black upperwings. These butterflies fly quickly and perch often. Males establish territories by perching with wings open in the sun.
Best time to see: We have seen them in January & October.
Habitat: damp gullies and slopes
Larval (caterpillar) food: Native and introduced nettle Urtica sp. Read more and see caterpillars here.
Males are a striking bright red-orange butterfly with little black on wings. Females are large, black & white. Males fly quite high and perch 6-7m above ground. Females can sometimes be seen resting in the shade on the ground in summer.
Best time to see: males October – February, females March – April.
Habitat: warm temperate rainforest in a small range along the coast from East Gippsland to southern Queensland.
Larval (caterpillar) food: Poa sp. native grasses Read more here.
Heteronympha banksii banksii
These lovely butterflies fly rapidly in forest understorey. Males perch on shrubs, in sunny spot – especially fond of tree ferns – to establish territories.
Best time to see: February – April
Habitat: rainforest, mountain forests. This subspecies confined to eastern Victoria and coastal New South Wales.
Larval (caterpillar) food: native grasses Poa sp. and Gahnia. Read more and see the caterpillars here.
These strongly-marked butterflies fly erraticly. Males fly low over grasses in morning, but fly higher & perch in afternoon.
Best time to see: February – March.
Habitat: wet forest & rainforest, mostly in eastern Victoria and coastal New South Wales.
Larval (caterpillar) food: native grasses Microlaena stipoides & Poa sp. Read more and see caterpillars here.
Heteronympha merope merope
Females large, showy. Males smaller and easier to confuse with other browns, but the single, small eyespot in each wing is helpful. They fly low and slow, and can be very numerous at times.
Best time to see: males spring & summer (September to February, females autumn (March, April, May).
Habitat: grassy open woodlands & dry forest. This subspecies is widely distributed through Victoria, South Australia, NSW & southern Queensland, including town gardens.
Larval (caterpillar) food: Weeping Grass Microlaena stipoides, Poa sp. Kangaroo Grass Themeda triandra, Couch Grass Cynodon dactylon. Read more and see caterpillars here.
Forest (Cyril’s) Brown
These butterflies often seem to have a green sheen on the top of their body. They fly quickly and erraticly. Males are active in afternoon and can fly quite high. Females fly close to the ground.
Best time to see: August – October
Habitat: wet forest & rainforest throughout southern Victoria and mostly southern coastal New South Wales.
Larval (caterpillar) food: Poa sp. native grasses Read more and see caterpillars here.
One of few butterflies that is prettier on the underside: a striking pattern of large eyespots and lines.
Best time to see: males January – February, females February – March
Habitat: open forest and beside rivers in southern Victoria, coastal NSW and southern Queensland.
Larval (caterpillar) food: Weeping Grass Microlaena stipoides, Poa sp. native grasses, Kangaroo Grass Themeda triandra Read more and see caterpillars here.
Varied Sword-grass Brown
Tisiphone abeona albifascia
One the easiest butterflies to see and photograph in East Gippsland – they fly slowly and gracefully, and perch prominently with wings open. They are quite big, and numerous throughout East Gippsland.
Best time to see: September – October and February – April
Habitat: Coastal areas in wet gullies, rainforest. This subspecies confined to southern Victoria and just over the border into New South Wales.
Larval (caterpillar) food: Sword-grass Gahnia sieberiana and other gahnia sp. Read more and see caterpillars here.
Medium-sized butterflies with no eyespots in wings. Most have some white or yellow in wings. Antennae close together at base.
A striking black, yellow and red butterfly that is quite big. Often we see several together in the tops of eucalyptus trees – where the caterpillar’s favourite plant, mistletoe, grows.
Best time to see: usually seen flying: early spring (September – October) and late summer (January – February)
Habitat: Open forest in Victoria and coastal New South Wales.
Larval (caterpillar) food: larval food: mistletoes, particularly Amyema miquelii & A pendula Read more and see caterpillars here.
Small to medium-sized butterflies with a long stout abdomen (they tend to look like chubby, short-winged butterflies). Wings usually have drab brown or orange tones. Antennae widely separated at base.
Trapezites symmomus symmomus
A very attractive skipper with rich orange-rufous wings. Flies in sunshine, close to the ground.
Best time to see: late Janurary – March
Habitat: Open forests and rainforest edges. This subspecies occurs in East Gippsland, coastal New South Walkes and southern Queensland. Other subspecies in south-western Victoria, and north Queensland.
Larval (caterpillar) food: Lomandra sp. Mat Rushes Read more and see caterpillars here.
We see many other types of butterfly in East Gippsland in southern Australia, but these are just a few of our best photographs. There’s a more complete record on iNaturalist – click picture below:
If you are keen to see and photograph Australian butterflies, travel on the Wildlife Journey in February or March, or in October or November. Those are also great times to see lizards! Read about one of our favourite lizards here.
NOTES & REFERENCES:
For really complete information on all of the butterflies of Australia go to this excellent site Lepidoptera Butterfly House: http://lepidoptera.butterflyhouse.com.au/imagos.html
This site is also really helpful – Australian Butterflies: https://www.purvision.com/
1. Braby, Michael (2009) The Complete Field Guide to Butterflies of Australia p. 1-9
2. Land Conservation Council (1985) East Gippsland Area Review p. 294-295
3. A full list of the butterflies of Victoria: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_butterflies_of_Victoria