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Tailed Jay nectaring on Eupatorium odoratum
Wingspan 70-80 mm. The female has much longer tails and a distinct greenish white streak on the lower margin of the hind wing. This streak is visible on both sides of the hind wing if examined in hand. In flight, it is difficult to distinguish between the sexes.
The ground colour of the upperside of both sexes is black, and is studded with pale green spots that are a fluorescent green in freshly emerged specimens. The underside is mottled with green, brown, purple and gray.
Status, distribution and habitat
It is found throughout the island, all year round. It is most abundant in the wet zone and almost always seen in the lowland marshes where Anona glabra grows in profusion - one of the common larval host plants of the Tailed Jay. In the rain forest, it is commonest during the monsoons. This is a species that has become much more widespread since the turn of the century due to the cultivation of sour sop, custard apple and bullock's heart in home gardens. All three fruit species are larval host plants of this butterfly.
The colors of the Tailed Jay blend it well into its surroundings, and in flight, it is quite difficult to discern its markings or even follow its path. On warm bright days it is hard to get a good look at this very fast, lively, non-stop butterfly. It exploits all levels of the forest canopy but prefers to stay in and around canopy blooms. Here, it flies about a great deal, the narrow pointy wings and powerful thoracic muscles providing this insect with great speed, maneuverability and endurance, a set of characteristics shared by all members of the genus Graphium. Its flight is somewhat bouncy and as it descends from its power stroke, it holds its wings in a characteristic 'V' shaped position.
Although the Tailed Jay spends much of its time in the canopy, it frequently comes down to nectar on small trees, bushes and shrubs, Lanata being one of its favorites. Unlike the Lime Butterfly, it stays away from flowers near the ground. While nectaring, its wings vibrate very rapidly over a small acute angle, allowing it to move at 'lightning' speed to the next flower a few inches away. It certainly has superb visual, olfactory and gustatory co-ordination to feed and move so quickly from flower to flower. The Tailed Jay and the Common Blue Bottle are the fastest nectar feeders of the butterflies of Sri Lanka - no other butterfly seems as fast or as hurried as these two - perhaps a good strategy to avoid predators. The males of this species, unlike others in the group, do not visit wet soil or sand. At night, it rests on a leaf with its wings folded up above its abdomen, the forewings slightly pulled inside the hind wings, making it look smaller than it really is.
The first instar larva resembles bird droppings and so can remain safely on the upper surface of leaves in clear view of the predators. Its camouflage is quite impressive to keep the predators deceived. As the larva gets larger, the bird dropping strategy becomes ineffective (after all, bird droppings can get only so big!) and the larva assumes a green colour that blends them well into their surroundings.
Larval host plants: Species of Cinnamomum, Annona and Polyalthia
Final instar larva of Tailed Jay on Annona glabra
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