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Butterfly Wing Scale Digital Image Gallery

Common Nawab Butterfly

One of the tropical Asiatic lepidopterans, the common nawab butterfly is a strong, fast flier fond of overripe fruit. The word "nawab" invokes the image of an Indian ruler seated on a beautiful silken rug, which was the inspiration for the common name. The solitary common nawab caterpillar sits like royalty on the upper sides of young leaves upon a tiny spun-silk pad.

The common nawab, also known as Polyura athamas, is a member of the family Nymphalidae, the brush-footed butterflies. The species inhabits peninsular India and Southeastern Asia, including the islands of Hong Kong, the Malay Archipelago, and the Philippines. Fifteen scientifically recognized subspecies exist throughout its range. Fittingly, of the nawab butterflies in its genus, the common nawab is the most widely distributed and numerous. The rather small butterflies prefer to live in forests, but adapt to other living spaces when needed. The species can be distinguished from other tropical butterflies by the pale yellow-green bands that are topped by a single spot on both sides of its brown wings and the paired tails on each of its hind wings.

A common nawab butterfly takes approximately three months to complete metamorphosis. The barrel-shaped, glossy yellow eggs are laid singly and flat on the top of young host plant leaves by a mated female. Two days later the eggs turn brown and after five days the larvae hatch. The bright green caterpillars rarely wander far to feed and often eat the leaves of Acacia trees, Brazilian peppers, bird-of-paradise shrubs, and mimosas. After each instar, the larval butterfly sheds its skin, which it consumes. After a significant amount of feeding and growing, the caterpillars reach maturity and pupate. During the pupal stage, the chrysalides mimic live host leaves. They hang inverted and appear to have vertical veins and brown stems. About two weeks after pupation begins, depending on the weather and other environmental conditions, an adult butterfly emerges from its pupal case.

A long history of logging, over-collection, and insecticide use has taken a toll on local common nawab populations throughout the species' range. Recent efforts to develop sustainable economies based on ecotourism provide some hope for the long-term survival of the species. Heightened awareness and public education through the rapid growth of butterfly conservatories may also result in additional conservation efforts and habitat restoration for the common nawab butterfly.

Contributing Authors

Cynthia D. Kelly, Shannon H. Neaves, Laurence D. Zuckerman, and Michael W. Davidson - National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, 1800 East Paul Dirac Dr., The Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida, 32310.


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