Saturday, 10 October 2015

148. Papilio polytes polytes (The Common Mormon)

Number: 148
Family: Papilioniidae
Sub-Family: Papilioniinae
Species: Papilio polytes polytes Linnaeus 1758
Common name(s): The Common Mormon
Photography locations: Hanoi City, Tam Dao foothills (Vinh Phuc Prov.)

Papilio polites ranges widely from Sri Lanka and India to Indo-China, S. Japan, the Philippines and Sunda Islands in SE Asia. Its caterpillars feed on a variety of Rutaceae plants (Citrus and allied genera, including lemon and orange plants) and the butterfly is palatable to its predators such as birds. Various female forms of this species derive protection from such predators with their resemblance to distantly related, chemically protected (toxic) red-bodied Swallowtails, which experienced birds avoid eating. This type of resemblance is called Batesian mimicry, which is restricted in P. polytes to females, and the toxic species they resemble are called "models". 

Non-mimetic (form cyrus) females look like males, whereas mimetic female morphs (forms stichius, polytes, romulus...) mimic distantly related, toxic Pachliopta swallowtails.

Male Papilio polytes

The Common Mormon can be found in both natural and urban areas - cultivated Citrus has ensured this. Males and females can often be seen feeding at flowers. Males are also commonly found mud-puddling in lowland forests.
In Vietnam, two subspecies have been recorded : P. polytes polytes (Sino-Japanese taxon: N. Vietnam to Japan) and P. polytes romulus (Indomalayan taxon: C. and S. Vietnam, + Thailand, Malaisia, Laos, India...).

♀ form stichius resemble the unpalatable butterfly Pachliopta aristolochiae, and is able to avoid predators as a result. © 2015 Haruhiko Fujiwara.

Common Mormon courtship. Female (on the left) display the non-mimetic form cyrus

The courtship 'dance' of this species is particularly beautiful. The male appears to mob the female, until she eventually settles on a plant to forage on flowers, fluttering her wings. The male hovers continuously around her, occasionally butting her. The female then takes off, flies upwards to a next flower with the male following, facing her at all times.

Papilio polytes can be easily distinguished from the similar prexaspes by the presence of white marginal spots up the forewing from the tornus

The female of the non-mimetic form cyrus

The male. In Tonkin, different forms are known (pammon, borealis, depictus...) but none is mimetic

The female form stichius which mimics the Common Rose Pachliopta aristolochiae 
but with an entirely black abdomen

Female form stichius, upperside 
Note the central and large white patch (confined to anterior portion of HW in P. helenus)

Another mimetic female

Papilio polytes courtship, with the female displaying the stichius form

 Female form stichius followed by 2 courting males

A puddle party of Papilio polytes

 P. polytes puddling with Papilio helenus (foreground) and P. nephelus chaon 

Papilio polytes, 3th or 4th instar caterpillar showing osmeterium
This Y-shaped eversible gland located mid-dorsally behind the head, is a universal characteristic of  swallowtail caterpillars (Papilionidae).

Old Vietnamese stamp bearing the image of Papilio polytes stichius

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