Some butterflies from Sulawesi

I went to Sulawesi, in Indonesia, primarily to visit Tangkoko National Park and see the Black Crested Macaques (Macaca nigra) known locally as Yakis. At the time, I did not possess a macro lens, so the pictures I took of butterflies were mixed, and I did not do anything with them. With the blessing of lockdown, I decided to do a blog to feature them and say a bit about the butterfly fauna of this region. Sulawesi is a big, oddly shaped island, and I only visited the tip of the arm at the top, North Sulawesi.

Sulawesi, Indonesia. CC BY-SA 3.0,

Before I get to the butterflies, I’ll just mention that this is a wonderful place to visit. Everyone was very friendly and I had a great time. Would love to go back!

Yours truly on the lovely black volcanic sands on Norhern Slawesi

Tangkoko National Reserve is an easy place to get around, but you need a guide. It is however, quite dark in the forest, which is not brilliant for photography.

Tangkoko Batuangus Nature Reserve . Sulawesi, Indonesia

The park is one of the last refuges for this incredible monkey, which is still persecuted and hunted for bushmeat. They wander about in extended family groups, accompanied by biologists observing and recording their behaviour. As dusk approaches, the monkeys retreat to the trees, and the biologists and tourists go back to their hotels and chalets!

Turning from vertebrates to invertebrates, one of the best butterflies in the park is called Blanchard’s Ghost, Idea blanchardii, (Nymphalidae, Danainae, Danaini). A beautiful tree nymph which was quite common, but I singularly failed to get a good photograph of it! There’s some photos of it on the Wikipedia site (below) but for really excellent shots, see here. It flaps about above your head – see here and here – like a white bird. Worth going back just to see this one again.

Idea blanchardii at Warembungan, Minahasa Regency, North Sulawesi. By Ariefrahman – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Idea blanchardii is endemic to Sulawesi Region, as are about 43% of the 557 currently recognised butterfly species (Vane-Wright and de Jong, 2003). But only about about 24% are endemic on the core, or main island.

By Accassidy – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, By Accassidy – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Athyma libnites (below) is another one of the endemic butterflies on the large island that I did manage to photograph! It was basking in the lovely sunshine (below).

Athyma libnites libnites (Nymphalidae) Raymond JC Cannon

There are about 45 species in this genus (Athyma) which range from India to Solomon Islands, but they are not found in New Guinea or Australia, apparently. The Sulawesi species (above) is one of the most colourful. The Himalayan Orange Staff Sergeant (below) is also very nice.

Athyma cama, Moore, 1857 – Orange Staff Sergeant WLB. Subspecies Athyma cama cama Moore, 1857 – Himalayan Orange Staff Sergeant. Sayan Sanyal, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The geographical distributions of butterflies is a fascinating subject and well beyond the scope of this blog. But it is interesting to note that some species are restricted to certain islands like Sulawesi (where they are endemics) whilst others range over much wider regions (although there are often different subspecies in different parts of the range). Sulawesi  is probably at a a sort of biogeographical crossroads.

From: Deciphering the evolution of birdwing butterflies 150 years after Alfred Russel Wallace (Condamine,et al., 2015).

It is to the east of Wallace’s Line from the island of Borneo (see above) so some species – like the Trogonoptera birdwings (below) – do not occur there. But the gorgeous Ornithoptera birdwings, which are on the same side of Wallace’s line – found from the island of Papua to Australia – are also absent.

Rajah Brooke’s birdwing (Trogonoptera brookiana). Raymond JC Cannon

Other species, like the Triodes birdwings (below), span the whole region, from India to New Guinea. All of these butterflies have wings of course, but are they all as good at flying long distances, or are they restricted by the distribution of their host plants? I don’t know. Vane-Wright (1991) concluded that “there is no sharp distinction, at least within Wallacea, between the Asian and Australian biota, as Wallace originally tried to demonstrate”. It’s certainly a subject ripe for more research!

Common birdwing (Troides helena cerberus) nectaring on Lantana, Thailand. Raymond JC Cannon

Another species I saw in Sulawesi was the Common Evening Brown, Melanitis leda (Linnaeus). This species has an incredibly wide distribution, ranging from Africa eastwards to India, and southeastwards to Australia and the islands of the southwestern Pacific. It is also quite common. Why is it so successful, I wonder? Perhaps because it is a generalist feeder?

The common evening brown (Melanitis leda) Sulawesi, Indonesia. Raymond JC Cannon

Another reasonably restricted species I came across was Pareronia tritaea tritaea (Pieridae) (below: this subspecies occurs in northern and central Sulawesi). Unfortunately, the specimen I came across was not in the flush of youthful adult life! It was rather old and tatty. But still nice to see. Some of us humans are also getting old and tatty!

Pareronia tritaea tritaea (Pieridae). Tangkoko, Sulawesi. Raymond JC Cannon

Pareronia spp. butterflies (Pierinae within the family Pieridae) are all said to be mimics of the Danainae genus Parantica (see below). I.e. a totally different family: subfamily (Danainae of family Nymphalidae). 

Glassy tiger (Parantica aglea) Chiang Mai, Thailand. Raymond JC Cannon

Another, almost endemic species – it is confined to the island of Sulawesi, Sula and Talaud in Indonesia – is Papilio gigon (below) Also called the citrus swallowtail because the larvae feed on a variety of citrus species. It seemed to be fairly common, as far as I can remember.

I visited Sulawesi in 2014 (flying from Singapore to Manado). Quite a while ago. I would love to go back. To see more of the island; to see if the Yakis are still OK, and to try and see and photograph more butterflies!

Mu in Tangkoko NP, Sulawesi.



Condamine, F. L., Toussaint, E. F., Clamens, A. L., Genson, G., Sperling, F. A., & Kergoat, G. J. (2015). Deciphering the evolution of birdwing butterflies 150 years after Alfred Russel Wallace. Scientific Reports5(1), 1-11.

Tea, Y. K., Wei, J. S., Gan, C. W., & Lohman, D. J. (2020). Beachgoing Butterflies: Marine Puddling on Black Sand Beaches of Tangkoko Batuangus Nature Reserve, North Sulawesi. The Journal of the Lepidopterists’ Society74(2), 127-131.

Vane-Wright, R. I. (1991). Transcending the Wallace line: do the western edges of the Australina region and the Australian plate coincide?. Australian Systematic Botany4(1), 183-197.

Vane-Wright, R. I., & de Jong, R. (2003). The butterflies of Sulawesi: annotated checklist for a critical island fauna. Zoologische Verhandelingen343, 3-267.


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