Rainforest Residents

Ulysses Butterfly

The Butterflies of Skyrail

Wander around the gardens at Skyrail’s Smithfield and Kuranda terminals, or explore the world’s oldest tropical rainforest, and a flash of colour might catch your eye…

Following the break-up of Gondwana, Australia’s ancient rainforests became a haven for a huge diversification of plants and animals, including butterflies. Today the Wet Tropics is home to some 240 species and two of the most spectacular regularly make an appearance at Skyrail.

Ulysses Butterfly (Papilio ulysses)

The Ulysses butterfly is swallowtail butterfly commonly seen throughout the rainforest. Its iridescent blue colour stands out against the green backdrop of the rainforest, but they can be quite difficult to keep track of as they have a very erratic flight pattern to avoid predators.

Ulysses caterpillar

Ulysses caterpillar at home among the Pink Evodia (Melicope elleryana) trees at Skyrail Rainforest Cableway

One of the favourite host trees of the Ulysses Butterfly is the Pink Evodia (Melicope elleryana) that is currently in flower around Skyrail. It can be recognised by its bright pink clusters of flowers erupting all over the stems. The Ulysses Butterfly will lay its eggs on the leaves of the Evodias and the bright green caterpillars will eat the leaves when they hatch.

Cairns Birdwing Butterfly (Ornithoptera euphorion)

The Cairns Birdwing is the largest endemic butterfly in Australia, with females growing to more than 16cm! The males are very brightly coloured with patches of green and yellow on their wings with a bright red thorax and a yellow abdomen.

Cairns Birdwing Butterfly

The Cairns Birdwing Butterfly is often seen around the Smithfield terminal, particularly out the front of the Canopy Cafe at Skyrail Rainforest Cableway

The Cairns Birdwing relies on the native vine Aristolochia tagala as one of only two food sources for its caterpillars. The caterpillars store the toxins in the vine’s leaves to use for defence against predators.

Unfortunately for the Cairns Birdwing, an introduced species of Aristolochia (Aristolochia elegans) has found its way into backyards all along Australia’s east coast. This introduced vine also attracts Birdwing Butterflies, however it is toxic to their caterpillars and has been partially responsible for the severe declines of the closely related Richmond Birdwing Butterfly (Ornithoptera richmondia).  

With rainforest residents such as the Ulysses and Cairns Birdwing butterflies, it’s not hard to see why Skyrail is renowned as The World’s Most Beautiful Rainforest Experience.

If butterflies are your thing, when visiting Skyrail Rainforest Cableway remember to add on a visit to the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary in Kuranda! With over 1500 magnificent tropical butterflies such as the majestic green Cairns Birdwing and many more! (Ulysses butterfly photo credit: Australian Butterfly Sanctuary)

Skyrail Rainforest Cableway Ranger Tim HackwoodExploring the ancient rainforests of Gondwana with Skyrail Rainforest Cableway’s Environmental Ranger & Wildlife photographer Tim Hackwood