Common Mormon: All You Need to Know in a Nutshell

The Common Mormon, a species of swallowtail butterfly, is an intriguing and fascinating creature. Known for its widespread presence in Asia, these butterflies are popular among nature enthusiasts due to their striking appearance and adaptability.

One fascinating aspect of the Common Mormon is its unique mimicry behavior. The female butterflies of this species can imitate the appearance of other distasteful or poisonous butterfly species, thus protecting themselves from predators. In contrast, male Common Mormons exhibit a constant appearance that is not characterized by this mimicry.

Common Mormon butterflies are also recognized for their significant role as pollinators. As they gracefully flutter from flower to flower, they help plants reproduce by spreading pollen. This crucial function contributes to both the local ecosystem’s health and biodiversity.

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Common Mormon Caterpillars in Hong Kong

Subject:  What caterpillar
Geographic location of the bug:  Hong Kong
Date: 04/15/2018
Time: 11:52 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Hi there! We found these caterpillars on a lime plant we were growing in school. It is springtime in Hong Kong. There are many plants and trees in our playground, but there are no other lime plants here.  The lime plant was a growing project, And isn’t normally in the playground so I wonder if this is actually their usual food. Do you know what species these caterpillars are and what do they eat? Thank you
How you want your letter signed:  From Maddie

Common Mormon Caterpillars

Dear Maddie,
When caterpillars are found on a plant, one can with some assurance deduce that the caterpillar is feeding on that plant.  Butterflies and moths will lay eggs on plants that are suitable food sources for their caterpillars and that is what happened to your lime tree.  There are several species of Swallowtail Butterflies with similar looking caterpillars that feed on lime and other citrus tree leaves.  We believe your caterpillars are those of a Common Mormon,
Papilio polytes, and according to Butterflies of Singapore:  “The local host plants include the Indian Curry Leaf plant and various Citrus spp. One notable addition is the Mangrove Lime (Merope angulata) which was found to be utilized as larval host plant by members of the Plant Systematics group of the Department of Biological Sciences (NUS) in the recent past.”  The site also has nice images of the caterpillars and they look like your individuals.  We would not rule out that these might be the caterpillars of a Lime Swallowtail, Papilio demoleus, which is also pictured on the Butterflies of Singapore site.

Letter 2 – Male Common Mormon from India

Subject: Lazy butterfly
Location: India
January 23, 2013 7:29 am
I found this butterfly in the lowest stem of my plant ! I put it on the flower n then she is not moving frm there ! Is she sick or normal
N wats the kind of it ??
Signature: Creepyluv

Male Common Mormon

Dear Creepyluv,
We have identified your butterfly as a male Common Mormon,
Papilio polytes.  You can compare your butterfly to the mounted specimen pictured on the National Taiwan University Insect Museum Digital Archives Project website.  The Butterfly Circle website has nice images of the entire life cycle and provides this information:  “The female of the species is dimorphic, f. polytes, is a good mimic of the Common Rose. As the Common Mormon is not impalatable to birds, the female mimics the poisonous Common Rose for protection from its predators.”  According to the Kronforst Lab at the University of Chicago:  “Papilio polytes, a widely ranging Asian swallowtail, has a single male form and several female forms, most of which mimic locally abundant and toxic Pachliopta butterflies. There is a dominance hierarchy between female forms, the non-mimetic female form being recessive to all others.”  Now to addressing your other question.  This looks like a “young” butterfly since it has undamaged wings, and it might have just recently emerged from its chrysalis.  Also, if it has been cooler than normal recently, or if it was found early in the morning, it might explain the lethargy.

Thankeww ! Am fascinated that my backyard Curry Leave Plant has more that 7 caterpillars of common mormon ! Am waiting now !

You are such a tease.  Where are the caterpillar photos????

I will send those in morning if they showed up munching leaves !

Letter 3 – Mormon Metalmark

every day!
Such a cool web site! Thank you for sharing your vast knowledge. This dude has had the same nest/web in the same spot for close to a year. I love to pass by him/her every day as I hike up the mountain. What is more is that I am gaining increased faith in my fellow man/woman as compassionate and responsible children of the Universe. Literally hundreds of people frequent this trail. Yet no one has destroyed its home.
This one is on the ground,. However, I see many webs built on dead trees with the funnel directed into a hollowed out branch. I wonder if this is an adaptation or likely another spider? Alas, “What is that bug?” Please forgive me if I am overstepping my boundaries with the following inquiry. Can you help me identify this (I think its a moth because the wings are split?). It is slightly larger than a nickel and moves very abruptly and deliberate. As opposed to some butterflies that seem to be at the mercy of prevailing winds. Thanks again for the great web site! Sincerely
Dino R. Ventittelli
San Diego CA
The United States of America =) PS I thought you might like this pic i took this morning?

Hi Dino,
While your Funnel Web Spider photos are quite nice and your ruminations on the compassion of your fellow San Diegans is touching (though we feel hikers in general are more in tuned to the pulse of the planet), we are opting to post your Mormon Metalmark, Apodemia mormo, instead for several reasons. First, it is a new species for our site, and secondly, we feel our readership will appreciate it more. Jeffrey Glassberg, in Butterflies Through Binoculars: The West, has a humorous observation that parallels your own observation. He writes: “A candidate for ritalin if I’ve ever seen one — these guys just won’t sit still. Difficult to follow while flying, when they finally decide to nectar they often keep walking around the flowers, waving their antennas and flapping their wings constantly.” The caterpillar feeds on Buckwheat, and you have photographed the butterfly nectaring on the flower of a native Buckwheat. This species has many subspecies and local populations, and the markings are highly variable, “but the combination of black and orange with many white spots is distinctive” according to Glassberg.

Letter 4 – UPDATED: Metamorphosis of the Common Mormon

Unknown Swallowtail Butterfly from “Only Eddie Knows Where” is a Common Mormon
(02/09/2008) Please help to identify this butterfly
Hi there,
I managed to keep 3 caterpillars that were destroying my curry leaf plant & one of them transformed into this beautiful butterfly. Attached is the shot of the butterfly that I took before I set it off free. Please can you help identify this species of butterfly? Thanks a lot for your help. Cheers,
Eddie

Hi Eddie,
The best we can do without a location of origin is a Swallowtail Butterfly in the family Papilio.

Oh I’m so sorry Daniel…..I’m from Singapore. Appreciate your help. Cheers,
Eddie

That was a big help Eddie. Your butterfly is a Common Mormon, Papilio polytes romulus. We are thrilled that our search led us to a Butterflies of Singapore website.

Hi Daniel,
You & Lisa are the greatest 🙂 Thanks for everything & also leading me to the Butterflies of Singapore website. Never knew it existed. If you need photos of the Common Mormon in the caterpillar & chrysalis stages, I will be glad to forward them to you for your “What’s that bug?” website. Thanks once again & keep up the good work.
Eddie

Wow Eddie,
We couldn’t have hoped for better photos. Thanks for creating this awesome metamorphosis documentation of the Common Mormon from Singapore for our site. Your photos demonstrate two significant characteristics of the genus Papilio. First, the caterpillar photo shows the Osmeterium or scent gland. Caterpillars in the genus Papilio possess a hidden scent gland that is often brightly colored and forked in shape. It is hidden and only appears when the caterpillar is threatened. Your chrysalis photo shows the silken girdle that keeps the pupa upright, another characteristic of the genus Papilio.

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Common Mormon Caterpillars in Hong Kong

Subject:  What caterpillar
Geographic location of the bug:  Hong Kong
Date: 04/15/2018
Time: 11:52 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Hi there! We found these caterpillars on a lime plant we were growing in school. It is springtime in Hong Kong. There are many plants and trees in our playground, but there are no other lime plants here.  The lime plant was a growing project, And isn’t normally in the playground so I wonder if this is actually their usual food. Do you know what species these caterpillars are and what do they eat? Thank you
How you want your letter signed:  From Maddie

Common Mormon Caterpillars

Dear Maddie,
When caterpillars are found on a plant, one can with some assurance deduce that the caterpillar is feeding on that plant.  Butterflies and moths will lay eggs on plants that are suitable food sources for their caterpillars and that is what happened to your lime tree.  There are several species of Swallowtail Butterflies with similar looking caterpillars that feed on lime and other citrus tree leaves.  We believe your caterpillars are those of a Common Mormon,
Papilio polytes, and according to Butterflies of Singapore:  “The local host plants include the Indian Curry Leaf plant and various Citrus spp. One notable addition is the Mangrove Lime (Merope angulata) which was found to be utilized as larval host plant by members of the Plant Systematics group of the Department of Biological Sciences (NUS) in the recent past.”  The site also has nice images of the caterpillars and they look like your individuals.  We would not rule out that these might be the caterpillars of a Lime Swallowtail, Papilio demoleus, which is also pictured on the Butterflies of Singapore site.

Letter 2 – Male Common Mormon from India

Subject: Lazy butterfly
Location: India
January 23, 2013 7:29 am
I found this butterfly in the lowest stem of my plant ! I put it on the flower n then she is not moving frm there ! Is she sick or normal
N wats the kind of it ??
Signature: Creepyluv

Male Common Mormon

Dear Creepyluv,
We have identified your butterfly as a male Common Mormon,
Papilio polytes.  You can compare your butterfly to the mounted specimen pictured on the National Taiwan University Insect Museum Digital Archives Project website.  The Butterfly Circle website has nice images of the entire life cycle and provides this information:  “The female of the species is dimorphic, f. polytes, is a good mimic of the Common Rose. As the Common Mormon is not impalatable to birds, the female mimics the poisonous Common Rose for protection from its predators.”  According to the Kronforst Lab at the University of Chicago:  “Papilio polytes, a widely ranging Asian swallowtail, has a single male form and several female forms, most of which mimic locally abundant and toxic Pachliopta butterflies. There is a dominance hierarchy between female forms, the non-mimetic female form being recessive to all others.”  Now to addressing your other question.  This looks like a “young” butterfly since it has undamaged wings, and it might have just recently emerged from its chrysalis.  Also, if it has been cooler than normal recently, or if it was found early in the morning, it might explain the lethargy.

Thankeww ! Am fascinated that my backyard Curry Leave Plant has more that 7 caterpillars of common mormon ! Am waiting now !

You are such a tease.  Where are the caterpillar photos????

I will send those in morning if they showed up munching leaves !

Letter 3 – Mormon Metalmark

every day!
Such a cool web site! Thank you for sharing your vast knowledge. This dude has had the same nest/web in the same spot for close to a year. I love to pass by him/her every day as I hike up the mountain. What is more is that I am gaining increased faith in my fellow man/woman as compassionate and responsible children of the Universe. Literally hundreds of people frequent this trail. Yet no one has destroyed its home.
This one is on the ground,. However, I see many webs built on dead trees with the funnel directed into a hollowed out branch. I wonder if this is an adaptation or likely another spider? Alas, “What is that bug?” Please forgive me if I am overstepping my boundaries with the following inquiry. Can you help me identify this (I think its a moth because the wings are split?). It is slightly larger than a nickel and moves very abruptly and deliberate. As opposed to some butterflies that seem to be at the mercy of prevailing winds. Thanks again for the great web site! Sincerely
Dino R. Ventittelli
San Diego CA
The United States of America =) PS I thought you might like this pic i took this morning?

Hi Dino,
While your Funnel Web Spider photos are quite nice and your ruminations on the compassion of your fellow San Diegans is touching (though we feel hikers in general are more in tuned to the pulse of the planet), we are opting to post your Mormon Metalmark, Apodemia mormo, instead for several reasons. First, it is a new species for our site, and secondly, we feel our readership will appreciate it more. Jeffrey Glassberg, in Butterflies Through Binoculars: The West, has a humorous observation that parallels your own observation. He writes: “A candidate for ritalin if I’ve ever seen one — these guys just won’t sit still. Difficult to follow while flying, when they finally decide to nectar they often keep walking around the flowers, waving their antennas and flapping their wings constantly.” The caterpillar feeds on Buckwheat, and you have photographed the butterfly nectaring on the flower of a native Buckwheat. This species has many subspecies and local populations, and the markings are highly variable, “but the combination of black and orange with many white spots is distinctive” according to Glassberg.

Letter 4 – UPDATED: Metamorphosis of the Common Mormon

Unknown Swallowtail Butterfly from “Only Eddie Knows Where” is a Common Mormon
(02/09/2008) Please help to identify this butterfly
Hi there,
I managed to keep 3 caterpillars that were destroying my curry leaf plant & one of them transformed into this beautiful butterfly. Attached is the shot of the butterfly that I took before I set it off free. Please can you help identify this species of butterfly? Thanks a lot for your help. Cheers,
Eddie

Hi Eddie,
The best we can do without a location of origin is a Swallowtail Butterfly in the family Papilio.

Oh I’m so sorry Daniel…..I’m from Singapore. Appreciate your help. Cheers,
Eddie

That was a big help Eddie. Your butterfly is a Common Mormon, Papilio polytes romulus. We are thrilled that our search led us to a Butterflies of Singapore website.

Hi Daniel,
You & Lisa are the greatest 🙂 Thanks for everything & also leading me to the Butterflies of Singapore website. Never knew it existed. If you need photos of the Common Mormon in the caterpillar & chrysalis stages, I will be glad to forward them to you for your “What’s that bug?” website. Thanks once again & keep up the good work.
Eddie

Wow Eddie,
We couldn’t have hoped for better photos. Thanks for creating this awesome metamorphosis documentation of the Common Mormon from Singapore for our site. Your photos demonstrate two significant characteristics of the genus Papilio. First, the caterpillar photo shows the Osmeterium or scent gland. Caterpillars in the genus Papilio possess a hidden scent gland that is often brightly colored and forked in shape. It is hidden and only appears when the caterpillar is threatened. Your chrysalis photo shows the silken girdle that keeps the pupa upright, another characteristic of the genus Papilio.

Authors

    by
  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

4 thoughts on “Common Mormon: All You Need to Know in a Nutshell”

  1. Hi I have 3 of those right now. Somebody gave them to my little nephew. He’s just a toddler so naturally now I have to take care of them for him. They seem to be in different stages right now. One of them has wrapped itself into a green pouch, one of them is just suspended in the same hunched position for 2 days now. The third one is still moving around sluggishly.

    I’m worried when you say that the silken girdle keeps the pupa upright. The one in the green pouch is on the floor of the container and looks a lot smoother and greener than the one in the photo. Been two days as well. Do you think it will be able to make it? How long does the metamorphosis go on? They are magnificent little creatures… I really hope they can make it

    Reply
  2. Hey there, I think your site might be having browser compatibility issues.
    When I look at your blog site in Chrome, it looks fine but when opening in Internet Explorer, it
    has some overlapping. I just wanted to give you a
    quick heads up! Other then that, terrific blog!

    Reply
  3. Hey there, I think your site might be having browser compatibility issues.
    When I look at your blog site in Chrome, it looks fine but when opening in Internet Explorer, it
    has some overlapping. I just wanted to give you a
    quick heads up! Other then that, terrific blog!

    Reply

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