Australian Biological Resources Study

Australian Faunal Directory


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Family NYMPHALIDAE Rafinesque, 1815

Admirals, Browns, Fritillaries

Compiler and date details

October 2017 - M.F. Braby


Nymphalidae are characterised by adults of both sexes having the fore legs modified and reduced, the epiphysis absent, fore wing with some branches of R forked, pupa attached only by cremaster or occasionally lying on ground. The larva has a cylindrical body with spines, filaments, a bifid anal segment or a horned head. They are usually moderate-sized to large butterflies, often coloured in brown or orange. Most are strong fliers but the small Satyrinae are weak fliers. While Australian butterflies mostly require full sunlight before they will fly, some Satyrinae will fly when conditions are overcast as long as it is not too cold. The Australian species are easily identified. Many well-known examples of mimicry occur in this family.

The Nymphalidae have undergone the most extensive phylogenetic analysis and systematic revision in recent years (Brower 2000; Wahlberg et al. 2003; Freitas & Brown 2004; Wahlberg & Wheat 2008; Wahlberg et al. 2009). There has also been considerable attempt to establish monophyly and relationships of several higher taxa within the family, such as the Libytheinae, Heliconiinae including the tribes Acraeini and Argynnini, Nymphalinae, Satyrinae, and the subtribes Danaini and Ithomiini of the Danainae. Five major clades have been identified in the Nymphalidae, informally designated the libytheines, danaines, heliconiines, nymphalines and satyrines, within which the subfamily level classification is now relatively stable and strongly supported in all combined phylogenetic analyses based on sequences of 10 genes and 235 morphological characters (Wahlberg et al. 2009). Of the 12 subfamilies currently recognised, all but the Pseudergolinae, Biblidinae and Calinaginae occur in Australia. The Libytheinae are almost certainly the sister lineage to the remaining higher taxa (Wahlberg et al. 2003; Freitas & Brown 2004; Wahlberg et al. 2009), which comprise the following phylogenetic arrangement: Danainae + (((Limenitidinae + Heliconinae) + (Pseudergolinae + ((Apaturinae + Biblidinae) + (Cyrestinae + Nymphalinae)))) + (Calinaginae + (Charaxinae + Satyrinae))).

Ninety-one nymphalid species occur in Australia in 9 subfamilies (Braby 2010): Libytheinae (1 species), Danainae (18 species), Heliconiinae (8 species), Limenitidinae (5 species), Apaturinae (1 species), Cyrestinae (1 species), Nymphalinae (15 species), Charaxinae (3 species) and Satyrinae (39 species). All subfamilies are widely distributed. The single group that has speciated in Australia is the Satyrinae in which the Coenonymphina is largely Australian with species also in New Caledonia, New Guinea and New Zealand, Peru and the Holarctic. The genus Nesoxenica is the only butterfly genus endemic to Tasmania, and the species N. leprea (Hewitson), Oreixenica ptunarra Couchman and Argynnina hobartia (Westwood) are the only butterfly species endemic to Tasmania. The genera Argynnina, Geitoneura, Heteronympha, Nesoxenica and Oreixenica are found only in the southern parts of Australia. Species of Oreixenica are perhaps the most conspicuous alpine butterflies of southern Australia. Of the species in the remaining subfamilies, only three are largely Australian. Charaxes sempronius (Fabricius) is shared with Lord Howe Island and belongs to the widespread C. pyrrhus (L.) group of species. Vanessa kershawi (McCoy) is regularly found in New Zealand, but seems unable to breed there, and is also regularly found on Lord Howe Island and Norfolk Island. It is a sibling species of the almost cosmopolitan V. cardui (L.). V. itea (F.) is also shared with New Zealand.

Vanessa kershawi is a noted migratory species, reaching New Zealand regularly and Macquarie Island occasionally. Some species of Hypolimnas Hübner, Danaus Kluk and Tirumala Moore regularly extend their ranges south each summer in Australia and occasionally individuals reach New Zealand. Euploea corinna (W.S. Macleay) regularly extends its range in summer south to Sydney as sometimes does Melanitis leda (Fabricius), and the latter has been recorded from New Zealand.

Larvae of Satyrinae are cylindrical with a bifid anal segment and feed on monocotyledonous plants. Larvae of the Danaiinae bear long filaments and feed on plants of the families Apocynaceae and Moraceae. The Charaxinae have larvae with horned heads and feed on a wide variety of plant families. The Heliconiinae have larvae with branched spines and specialise in Passifloraceae as larval food plants. The remaining subfamilies also have larvae with branched spines and feed on a variety of plant families.


Excluded Taxa


Euploea alcathoe monilifera (Moore, 1883) [= Gamatoba monilifera Moore 1883. Type data: Lectotype BMNH Rh6569 ♀, Thursday Is., QLD (designated in original description) Comment: Moore in the original description did not indicate the number of specimens described; Riley, N.D. & Gabriel, A.G. (1925: 34); Type specimen information in Waterhouse (1936: 27); Type locality reference: Riley & Gabriel (1925)] — Moore, F. 1883. A monograph of Limnaina and Euploeina, two groups of diurnal Lepidoptera belonging to the subfamily Euploeinae; with descriptions of new genera and species. Part II. Euploeina. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London 1883(3): 253-324 pls 29-32 [publication date: Duncan, F.M. 1937. Dates of publication of the society's Proceedings, 1859–1926. With an appendix containing the dates of publication of "Proceedings" 1830–1858, compiled by the late F.H. Waterhouse, and of the "Transactions", 1833–1869, by the late Henry Peavot, originally published in P.Z.S. 1893, 1913. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London A 107: 71–84] [262]


General References

Ackery, P.R. 1987. The danaid genus Tellervo (Lepidoptera, Nymphalidae) — a cladistic approach. Journal of the Linnean Society of London, Zoology 89: 203-274 25 figs

Ackery, P.R. 1988. Hostplants and classification: a review of nymphalid butterflies. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society of London 33: 95-203

Ackery, P.R., de Jong, R. & Vane-Wright, R.I. 1998. The Butterflies: Hedyloidea, Hesperioidea and Papilionoidea. pp. 263-300 in Kristensen, N.P. (ed.). Lepidoptera, Moths and Butterflies. Volume 1: Evolution, Systematics, and Biogeography. Handbuch der Zoologie/Handbook of Zoology. Volume IV Arthropoda: Insecta Part 35. i-x. Berlin : Walter de Gruyter Vol. 1(35).

Ackery, P.R. & Vane-Wright, R.I. 1984. Milkweed Butterflies their Cladistics and Biology being an account of the natural history of the Danainae, a subfamily of the Lepidoptera, Nymphalidae. London : British Museum (Natural History) 425 pp.

Braby, M.F. 2000. The Butterflies of Australia, their identification, biology and distribution. Melbourne : CSIRO Publishing xx 976 pp.

Braby, M.F. 2010. The merging of taxonomy and conservation biology: a synthesis of Australian butterfly systematics (Lepidoptera: Hesperioidea and Papilionoidea). Zootaxa 2707: 1-76 [Date published 3 Dec 2010]

Brower, A.V.Z. 2000. Phylogenetic relationships among the Nymphalidae (Lepidoptera) inferred from partial sequences of the wingless gene. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 267: 1201–1211

Freitas, A.V.L. & Brown, K.S.J. 2004. Phylogeny of the Nymphalidae (Lepidoptera). Systematic Biology 53: 363–383

Miller, L.D. 1968. The higher classification, phylogeny and zoogeography of the Satyridae (Lepidoptera). Memoirs of the American Entomological Society 24: i-iii, 1-174

Riley, N.D. & Gabriel, A.G. 1925. Catalogue of the Type Specimens of Lepidoptera Rhopalocera in the British Museum Part II. Danaidae. London : British Museum 55 pp.

Smiles, R.L. 1982. The taxonomy and phylogeny of the genus Polyura Billberg (Lepidoptera: Nymphalidae). Bulletin of the British Museum (Natural History) Entomology 44(3): 115-237

Vane-Wright, R.I., Ackery, P.R. & Smiles, R.L. 1977. The polymorphism, mimicry, and host plant relationships of Hypolimnas butterflies. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society of London 9: 285-297

Wahlberg, N., Leneveu, J., Kodandaramaiah, U., Peña, C., Nylin, S., Freitas, A.V.L. & Brower, A.V.Z. 2009. Nymphalid butterflies diversity following near demise at the Cretaceous/Tertiary boundary. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 276: 4295–4302

Wahlberg, N., Weingartner, E. & Nylin, S. 2003. Towards a better understanding of the higher systematics of Nymphalidae (Lepidoptera: Papilionoidea). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 28: 473–484

Wahlberg, N. & Wheat, C.W. 2008. Genomic outposts serve the phylogenomic pioneeers: designing novel nuclear markers for genomic DNA extractions of Lepidoptera. Systematic Biology 57: 231–242

Waterhouse, G.A. 1936. [unpublished personal manuscript of observations made at the BMNH (Papilionidae, Pieridae, Danainae)]. Photocopy located at ANIC, Canberra, ACT. 29 pp.


History of changes

Note that this list may be incomplete for dates prior to September 2013.
Published As part of group Action Date Action Type Compiler(s)
04-Feb-2023 PAPILIONOIDEA 04-Feb-2023 MODIFIED Dr Michael Braby (ANU)
13-May-2022 PAPILIONOIDEA 21-Dec-2022 MODIFIED Dr Michael Braby
26-Feb-2021 PAPILIONOIDEA 04-Feb-2023 MODIFIED Dr Michael Braby
04-Jun-2020 PAPILIONOIDEA 04-Feb-2023 MODIFIED Dr Michael Braby
02-Nov-2017 NYMPHALIDAE Rafinesque, 1815 04-Feb-2023 MODIFIED
06-Sep-2017 PAPILIONOIDEA 04-Feb-2023 MODIFIED
05-Mar-2013 04-Feb-2023 MODIFIED
30-Mar-2012 04-Feb-2023 MODIFIED
28-Mar-2012 04-Feb-2023 MODIFIED
12-Feb-2010 (import)