All these photographs of Common Rose were captured at Sammilan Shetty’s Butterfly Park at Belvai where I did field test of Canon EOS 7D mark II using Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM. During the same capture I also conducted an interview to find what inspired Sammilan to invest so much energy and effort in creating Karnataka’s first private butterfly park. You can read that interview here at JLR Explore – Paradise of Winged Jewels.
The Common Rose (Pachliopta aristolochiae) is a swallowtail butterfly belonging to the Roses, or Red-bodied Swallowtails. It is a common butterfly which is extensively distributed across South and South East Asia.
It is widely distributed in Asia. Afghanistan, Pakistan, India (including the Andaman islands), Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Japan (south-western Okinawa only), Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia), Nicobar islands, peninsular and eastern Malaysia, Brunei, Philippines (Palawan and Leyte), Indonesia, and Taiwan. They are very common almost all over the plains of India, and not threatened as a species. Extremely abundant during and after the monsoon.
Forewing with well-marked pale streaks on the discal area that do not reach the terminal margin, the latter broadly velvety black; the streaks beyond end of cell extended inwards into its apex. Hind wing with elongate white discal markings in interspaces 2–5 beyond the cell. In dry-weather specimens these markings are very short and do not nearly reach the bases of the interspaces; beyond these a curved series of lunular markings in interspaces 1 to 7 dull crimson sprinled with black scales, the spot in interspace 1 large, irregular, diffuse, margined interiorly with white.
On the Underside of the males, the ground-colour and markings is similar, but the red subterminal spots on the hind wing much brighter; it is not so sprinkled with black scales, better defined, the anterior four subquadrate, the next two crescentic, sometimes quadrate also, the spot in interspace 1 triangular and pointed. Antennae, thorax and abdomen above up to the preanal segment black; the head, sides of prothorax above, and of the whole of the thorax and abdomen beneath vermilion-red; anal segment vermilion-red.
Female is similar to the males; the only difference being a comparatively broader wings which is most conspicuous in the forewing.
This butterfly has adapted to a range of habitats, and is been found in congregations at lower elevations. The Common Rose is found up to 8000 feet in the Western Ghats and South Indian Hills, up to 5000 feet at the Eastern end of the Himalayas but only up to 3000 feet in the North West Himalayas. The butterfly is a common visitor to Indian gardens and can even be found in crowded urban areas. Here most of the flowers it is feeding on is Indian Snakeweed (Stachytarpheta jamaicensis) except the first photo where it is feeding on Pink snakeweed (Stachytarpheta mutabilis).
The red body, slow peculiar flight, bright colouration and pattern of the wings are meant to indicate to predators that this butterfly is inedible, being well protected by the poisons it has sequestered from its larval food plant. It also emits a nasty smelling substance when handled to further enhance its unappealing qualities. Hence it is rarely attacked by predators, a strategy so successful, that edible butterflies have evolved to mimic it, the classical example being that of the female morph of the Common Mormon that is Papilio polytes, female form stichius.
The Common Rose frequently visits flowers such as Lantana, Cosmos, Zinnia, Jatropha and Clerodendron. The butterfly occasionally also visits wet patches. In parts of Sri Lanka, the males are known to congregate and form a beautiful sight while mud-puddling.
It prefers sites that are 10 to 15 feet above ground, below the canopy in trees with sufficient cover from the elements, where it frequently roosts in the company of others of its type, and, sometimes, in the company of the Crimson Rose.
It flies high, slowly and often descends to nectar on flowers below. On such occasions it often dives down with its wings held back, and as it approaches the flower, the wings open up to provide deceleration. The butterfly primarily depends on motive thrust on the powerful flapping of its forewings while the hind wings act as a balancing and steering mechanism. This flying technique gives a rather unusual look to its flight and an observer is left with the impression that it is dragging itself through the air with only the assistance of its forewings.
It has been considered in the past that these tails are primarily for deception as in the case of the Lycaenids where the thread-like tails resemble antennae and confuse the attacker as to the location of the head. On occasions, Roses have been observed with damaged tails and it is possible that the presence of swallowtails occasionally does favour the butterfly in confusing attackers.
The female has been observed inspecting Aristolochiae plants and selecting healthy plants with verdant growth to ensure adequacy of food for its voracious caterpillars. It lays round and reddish eggs with fine black markings. The eggs are laid singly on top, the underside of leaves or even on shoots.
The caterpillar is a beautiful velvety maroon colour and has a beautiful white band on a segment on its middle reminiscent of a belt or collar. It has numerous fleshy red-tipped white protuberances on the body. It is bulky and slow in its movements. It is a beautiful caterpillar.
The pupa is brownish with various shades of brown and pink markings. It is attached to its support by the tail and held at an angle by a body band. The support is usually a stick. The distinguishing feature of the Common Rose pupa is the presence of large semi-circular projections on the back of the abdomen, thorax and head.
The larvae feed on creepers and climbers of the genus Aristolochia, Family Aristolochiaceae and they sequester toxins such as aristolochic acid in their bodies. This makes the adults toxic to vertebrate predators such as birds and reptiles. However the Braconid wasps which parasitise the caterpillars have apparently co-evolved with the butterfly and are not affected by the toxins. Larval food plants include: Aristolochia bracteolata, Aristolochia indica, Aristolochia tagala, Aristolochiae griffithi, Thottea siliquosa.