Two days ago a huge butterfly-like moth swirled up in front of me when I walked to the Dokmai Garden laboratory. I managed to take a picture in spite of the distance and strong light from behind the Pterocarpus indicus leaves. I sent the picture to Chiang Mai lepidopterologist Adam Cotton for an ID: Lyssa zampa (Uraniidae). One English name is ‘Laos Brown Butterfly’ which I think is a poor name because it is not restricted to Laos (reported from Himalaya to Borneo), it can be grey and it is not a butterfly. Alternative names I found on internet are ‘Giant Uranid Moth’ and ‘Tropical Swallowtail Moth’ which are much better.
A distinctive feature of many members of the Uraniidae family is the double swallowtail. Diurnal uraniids are usually very colourful, and so this is a nocturnal species. This is another new addition to the butterflies and moths of Dokmai Garden. The larva is reported to feed on Endospermum (Euphorbiaceae) which might be true for southern Thailand and Malaysia, but we do not have that plant genus here in northern Thailand and so we need to locate the larvae and their local food. Dokmai Garden has a special section devoted to the rubber tree family (Euphorbiaceae). According to Adam Cotton the tropical swallowtail moth was formerly included in the Thai endangered species list but has been removed since it appears to be more common. I have never seen it on our lamp traps so maybe finding it demands a good portion of luck. These days with near full moon should be good for observing its nocturnal behaviour.
For those who wish to read more I suggest ‘Moths of Borneo‘.
Text & Photo: Eric Danell