Ulysses Butterfly Decline

butterfly courtship

As you may have heard, we’re currently experiencing a complete loss of Ulysses Butterflies in our sanctuary and a significant decline in numbers in the wild. You can read more about it here.

We wanted to share a bit more information with you about the situation, including what we have been doing to date.

What’s our background? 

Here at Australian Butterfly Sanctuary, we have been successfully breeding Ulysses Butterflies for the last 29 years and we are renowned for our successful breeding program.

We have precautions place in our laboratory to identify and combat virus, fungus, bacterial infections and parasites. Over the last 29 years, we have been able to breed approximately 3000 Ulysses per year, when other breeders quite often fail to succeed. These breeders, including Melbourne Zoo, have used our healthy eggs to re-start their stock. 

What’s going on?

As a result of this extensive experience, we know the species and therefore are able to identify very quickly if something does not look right. However, we are now dealing with something that we haven’t come across before and everything that we have tried is not succeeding.

We are not the only ones experiencing the same issues – all of the other breeders in our local area are having the same problems with the caterpillars dying at the third instar or sooner. We have also been corresponding with a breeder in the US who was buying Ulysses pupa from another supplier and trying to breed them at his zoo, but having the same issues. 

The fact that it is not only a local issue, but an international issue, reinforces our concerns for the species. 

How can you help? 

So how can we help the caterpillars that are managing to breed in the wild? Everyone who has successfully bred Ulysses only feeds them the leaves of the Melicope elleryana. It is the preferred food plant for the caterpillars.

It is a native, pink flowering rainforest tree (so it grows quite tall) – which is why a lot of people are seeing the Ulysses in the rainforest, or on Skyrail Rainforest Cableway, as well as other pockets around the region. 

If you are wanting to encourage a female Ulysses to your garden so she can lay eggs on this tree, they can be bought from local nurseries such as Limberlost or Yuruga.

It is really helpful if people can contact us if they have eggs, caterpillars or pupae on their trees. This gives us an opportunity to have a good look at them, and their condition, and perhaps get permission to harvest them to use for research purposes. 

Please note: the Ulysses is protected and it is against the law to touch or move them without a permit. Please send us photos and reports, but please do not bring us in any of the eggs or caterpillars. 

Contact Us

You can email us, or contact us via our Facebook page with any photos, questions or queries.

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caitlin