Lepidopterists Discover New Swallowtail Species on Fiji

A beautiful new species of swallowtail butterfly has been discovered on the Pacific Island of Vanua Levu, Fiji.

The Natewa swallowtail (Papilio natewa). Image credit: Greg Kerr.

The Natewa swallowtail (Papilio natewa). Image credit: Greg Kerr.

Named the Natewa swallowtail (Papilio natewa), the newfound species measures 3 inches (8 cm) across, with two elongated edges projecting from the hind wings.

It has striking black and white zigzags emblazoned on the top of its wings, and a cream and black speckled pattern underneath, all gilded with soft yellows and blue eye spots.

“The discovery of a new swallowtail in the Pacific is hard to believe,” said John Tennent, Honorary Associate at Oxford University Museum of Natural History and Scientific Associate of the Natural History Museum, London, UK.

“The new swallowtail is a big butterfly, recognizable from a distance.”

“There were previously only two swallowtail butterflies known from the region: Papilio schmeltzi, endemic to Fiji, and Papilio godeffroyi, endemic to Samoa. Both are large but dull in appearance. To find a third as large, colorful and unusual, with its long, sword-like tails really is remarkable.”

The Natewa swallowtail was first found and photographed by the Australian ornithologist Greg Kerr, who was working on the Fijian island of Vanua Levu in 2017.

The image was sent for identification to lepidopterists around the world, who were puzzled as to what it might be.

Not only that, but the butterfly simply did not fit with what was known about butterfly diversity on Fiji, or even in the wider region as a whole.

It was not until earlier this year, during a fieldtrip to Fiji, that it was confirmed as a species new to science by Tennent and his colleagues.

“One of the reasons Papilio natewa has remained undiscovered for so long may lie in the butterfly’s habits,” they said.

“Unusually for a swallowtail, the butterfly seems to be a true forest species, spending most of its life inside the forest at elevations above 820 feet (250 m).”

“It is also unclear as to how the butterfly evolved on the Fijian island. Genetic analysis suggests that the species has some affinity to Papilio anactus, found in eastern Australia.”

A paper describing this discovery will be published in the entomological journal Nachrichten des Entomologischen Vereins Apollo.

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