Papilio helenus

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Red Helen
Red Helen (Papilio helenus) at Samsing, Duars, WB W IMG 6219.jpg
Black Butterfly with red.jpg
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Lepidoptera
Family: Papilionidae
Genus: Papilio
Species: P. helenus
Binomial name
Papilio helenus
Linnaeus, 1758

The Red Helen (Papilio helenus) is a large swallowtail butterfly found in forests of southern India and parts of Southeast Asia.


Papilio helenus is found in Sri Lanka, southern and North-East India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Kampuchea, Vietnam, southern China (including Hainan, Guangdong province), Taiwan, southern Japan, South Korea, Ryukyu Islands, peninsular and Eastern Malaysia, Brunei, Philippines, and Indonesia (Sumatra, Java, Bangka, Kalimantan, the Lesser Sunda Islands except Tanimbar).

In India it occurs along the Western Ghats from Kerala to Gujarat, also Palnis and Shevaroys, in the north from Mussoorie eastwards, to North-East India and onto Myanmar.[citation needed]


Papilio helenus is generally common and not threatened. It is commonly found from Kerala to Maharashtra, but rare in Gujarat. It is also found in abundance in North East India, and very commonly sighted in Assam.[citation needed]




Papilio helenus is the nominate member of the helenus species-group. The members of this clade are


There are up to thirteen different subspecies, two of which occur in India:

  • P. helenus daksha Moore. South India. Not Rare.
  • P. helenus helenus Linnaeus. Mussoorie to Myanmar. Common

and one in Taiwan :

  • P. helenus fortunius Fruhstorfer, 1908.

Life cycle[edit]

Similar species

Flies throughout the year in South India. Like any other butterflies, it goes through a certain life cycle.


The egg is pale apricot yellow in colour when freshly deposited, spherical in shape and has a slightly roughened exterior which looks like the skin of an orange when seen through a microscope. The diameter of an egg is 1.2 mm.

The eggs are deposited singly on the tips of very young leaves and shoots in shady parts of thick jungle. Before hatching, the eggs appear to be marked by chocolate coloured lines and flecks. The egg hatches in 4–7 days.


The freshly emerged larva is about 3 mm long with two yellow osmeteria (horn like processes) covered with setae on the first segment, a similar pair on the last segment and a nearly white smaller pair on the segment before the last. Each of the other segments bears, on the back, a pair of tufts of stiff hairs, each tuft arising from a small, yellowish conical process. The overall colour is brown, but there is a whitish saddle-like patch about the middle and the tail segments are also whitish in colour.

As with other Papilios there is a branched horn on the osmeterium which the larva extrudes when irritated. This secretes an unpleasant smelling liquid which is believed to repel predators and parasites.

After the first moult the caterpillar has the appearance of a shiny bird dropping. The larva is grass green in colour, mottled black and white and smoky grey. The osmeterium is flesh-coloured.

The young larva lies along the midrib of the leaf. Later on, when full-grown, it lies on the centre of the upperside of the leaf, on a stem or a twig. The fifth instar larva is about 5 cm long.

See also[edit]


  • Collins, N.M. & Morris, M.G. (1985). Threatened Swallowtail Butterflies of the World. IUCN. ISBN 2-88032-603-6
  • Evans, W.H. (1932). The Identification of Indian Butterflies. (2nd Ed), Bombay Natural History Society, Mumbai, India
  • Gay, Thomas; Kehimkar, Isaac & Punetha, J.C. (1992). Common Butterflies of India. WWF-India and Oxford University Press, Mumbai, India.
  • Haribal, Meena (1994). Butterflies of Sikkim Himalaya and their Natural History.
  • Kunte, Krushnamegh (2005). Butterflies of Peninsular India. Universities Press.
  • Wynter-Blyth, M.A. (1957). Butterflies of the Indian Region. Bombay Natural History Society, Mumbai, India.

External links[edit]