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The Great Mormon butterfly, Papilio memnon, is a large swallowtail butterfly (family Papilionidae) with wingspan up to 135mm, native to and common throughout Southeast Asia. Larvae feed on citrus species, particularly pomelo (citrus grandis) and common lime (citrus aurantifolia) which are broadly cultivated across Asia. Adults lay single eggs on the underside of leaves, which hatch in three days. For the first four instars, caterpillars resemble bird droppings. Pupation occurs after about 2.5 weeks. Adults inhabit forest clearings and disturbed areas, eating nectar from a wide variety of flowering species.

Alfred Russel Wallace first described the remarkable polymorphic nature of P. memnon, which exists as 13 subspecies and in addition, females show a large diversity of morphological and coloration forms, many of which are mimetic of other unpalatable papilionid species (Batesian mimicry). Female morphological variations include: presence or absence of tails, hindwing pattern, forewing pattern, color of the basal triangle on the forewing, and abdomen color. Extensive study of this species has contributed insight into the genetic determination of mimicry. These studies give classic evidence for existence of a “supergene” complex, which slowly built up over the course of evolution allowing butterfly species to mimic their models very accurately. This complex includes multiple linked genes that control the morphological variations listed above via genetic crossover, rather than these traits diversifying individually by point mutations, or other genetic mechanism.

Papilio memnon was featured in the Smithsonian’s spring quiz in 2012. An unusual gynandromorph (half male, half female) attracted a lot of attention when it eclosed at the "Sensational Butterflies" exhibition at the Natural History Museum in London (Sample 2011)

(Clarke, Sheppard and Thornton 1968; Clarke and Sheppard 1971; Jones et al. 2011; Mallet 2001; Tan 2009; Wikipedia 2011)


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