Common Mormon Butterfly (Papilio polytes Romulus)

She caught my eye as I was walking in the park. Apparently following behind attractive individuals with a camera in hand isn’t quite the right way to get them to stop and talk, so I had to improvise with the zoom. This is a female Common Mormon butterfly (Papilio polytes Romulus), form -polytes, which looks a little like the Common Rose, but with a dusty black body instead of a bright pink one.

common mormon landing

She was visiting the ixoras, and I hesitate to say ‘flitting’ because the way these butterflies fly, they remind me of hummingbirds. They’re steadier, and flap faster, almost constantly. I’m guessing it’s because they’re larger than normal butterflies, and therefore actually need to work harder to stay airborne.

common mormon drinking

About to drink some nectar, proboscis extended

Interestingly, the Common Mormon is so named because of the fact that the female is polymorphic (has different physical forms, that can live in the same habitat and belong to a population that mates randomly), whilst the male is monomorphic (only one form). This reminded people of the polygamy practiced by Mormons, which I’m not sure if you’d call an honour or an insult.

I’m not going to go into detail of the biology of the butterfly, since the folks at ButterflyCircle (Singapore) have done a better job of that than I ever could. What I did see once though, was a pair of them courting, a male and a female, dancing together. What was amazing about it was their speed and agility in the air: besides their usual flight they could also go backwards and sideways, which I’ve never seen under normal circumstances. They’d started off facing one another, touching and separating, and then re-oriented themselves to be perpendicular to their direction of flight, the male behind the female, before they went their own way for lunch. Despite it looking like I have a case of hand tremors, that shaky video is one of the most valuable I’ve ever taken.

common mormon courtship

If you look very closely, those two black blurs on the left are a courting pair, male left, female right

(As a side note, I’d always been of the stubborn opinion that photography wasn’t all about the camera, and that my little Nik– camera would do the job. However, it took a plunge, so I took the plunge, and armed myself with a new little P— camera with a much better zoom. I finally realised today that the camera actually does make a huge difference. Took me a while to see the obvious didn’t it.)



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