Ulysses Butterfly: Identification & Symbolism

The Ulysses butterfly is also known by its scientific name the Papilio ulysses, and it is a member of the Papilionidae family. Their striking blue coloring makes them an easy target for hungry predators, so they are incredibly fast.

Want to know more about this rare blue swallowtail butterfly? Keep reading!

Do Ulysses butterflies live in the United States?

Sadly, the Ulysses butterfly does not live in the United States. As a tropical butterfly, it lives in regions such as Southeast Asia, including countries like Australia, Queensland, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands.

They thrive in tropical rainforests and suburban gardens, dining on citrus blooms, kerosene wood, Euodia (Melicope elleryana), or other native food plants.

Why is it called Ulysses Butterfly?

The Ulysses butterfly and Ulysses caterpillar earn its name due to its striking appearance and adventurous spirit.

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Its name the Ulysses butterfly comes from the Roman adventurer Odysseus. Odysseus (Ulysses) was chronicled in Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey as a Greek hero.

Its common name is the Mountain Blue butterfly, Blue Emperor, or Blue Mountain Swallowtail because of its stark blue coloring.

What is the Ulysses butterfly known for?

The Ulysses butterfly is the white whale for butterfly enthusiasts. Blue butterflies are among some of the rarest in the world, but the Ulysses butterfly is a real treat to see in person.

Its narrow habitat, non-nomadic nature, and massive size make it an incredibly amazing sight to behold.

And, even if you get close to one of these butterflies, its fast flying speeds make taking a photo pretty difficult.

How to identify these butterflies?

Think you spotted a rare Ulysses butterfly? Here’s a quick and easy way to identify this butterfly species at a glance.

Like most species of butterflies, the Ulysses butterfly is sexually dimorphic. Male Ulysses butterflies have more vibrant shades of blue, while females are more muted in coloring. Also, females are just slightly larger than their male counterparts.

One of the most stunning characteristics of these butterflies is their massive size. All subspecies are slightly different, but most have a wingspan of 5.5 inches. They are one of the largest blue butterflies in the world (compared only to the elusive Blue Morpho butterfly).

Are Ulysses butterflies rare?

As it stands right now, the Ulysses butterfly is not endangered. The Australian government has made sure of that! Even though they are not currently endangered, Australian breeders need a permit for breeding.

However, their numbers are in jeopardy due to the destruction of their habitats and the pink-flowered doughwood trees continue to dwindle.

But spotting a Ulysses butterfly is a very rare sight, since they move incredibly fast, do not migrate, and have a limited tropical habitat.

How long does the Ulysses butterfly live?

The lifespan of the Ulysses butterfly is similar to most species of Swallowtails. Their lifespan can be broken down into four stages:

  • Egg Stage. The female lays eggs on a tree where they will sit for five to ten days.
  • Larval (Caterpillar) Stage. After the eggs hatch, they move on to the caterpillar stage for one to two weeks.
  • Pupa (Chrysalis) Stage. The cocoon stage lasts between 10-14 days, but it can vary depending on the environment.
  • Adult (Butterfly) Stage. Once they emerge as a butterfly, adult Ulysses butterflies can live for up to several months.

However, not all butterflies live to die of old age. Predators, available food sources, and shifts in temperature all play a big role in the lifespan of a Ulysses butterfly.

What does the Ulysses butterfly symbolize?

The Ulysses butterfly in particular doesn’t have any local or general symbolism. However, spotting a symbolic blue butterfly is often considered a sign of incoming joy or a shift in your luck.

Some even believe blue butterflies grant wishes. If you see a blue butterfly (which is quite a rare treat) make a wish!

Ulysses butterfly
Ulysses butterfly

What is an interesting fact about the Ulysses butterfly?

Did you know the Ulysses butterfly isn’t actually blue? Their iridescent blue hindwings are a trick of the eye called structural coloration. The tiny scales on their wings interact with light in a way that reflects and refracts blue wavelengths of light. 

Even they there isn’t blue pigment in their wings, they appear blue to our eyes. Sometimes, they look even more vibrant blue depending on how light reflects off their scales.

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