The journey of a Common Mormon Caterpillar | Sunday Observer

The journey of a Common Mormon Caterpillar

14 August, 2022

It was early July. I was helping my father in the garden and I found a bright green worm-like creature hugging a branch of the curry-leaf (karapincha) tree. It was a caterpillar of a Common Mormon Butterfly. I took it with the little branch and made a home for it in a ventilated jar. It was shaking its head and happily eating the leaves.

I started reading about it. What is a caterpillar? It’s a larva of an insect who has a segmented body and three pairs of legs and many leg like features in two rows in his lateral body. They camouflage in their environment and live near food sources.


Is it a butterfly or a moth? I read more. I took a picture and searched on the internet. I confirmed that it’s a Common Mormon butterfly. It is easy to identify. The butterfly sits keeping its wings together and vertical to the surface. A moth sits spreading its wings parallel to the surface.

What does it eat? I read about the food habits. It eats leaves of citrus plants (lime, lemon, narang) and karapincha leaves. I started feeding it. I gave it curry leaves. It ate six leaves on the first day. It ate 11 leaves the next day and 14 leaves on the following day. Its movements became faster day by day. I gave it a few lime leaves too. It liked lime leaves better than curry leaves.

Scientific facts

The Common Mormon’s scientific name is Papilio polytes. It is known as the swallowtail butterfly and is mostly seen in Asia.


Kingdom : Animalia

Phylum : Arthropoda

Family : Papilionidae

Order : Lepidoptera

Scientific name : Papilio polytes


Life cycle of a Common Mormon Caterpillar

There are four stages in a butterfly’s life. They are egg, larva, pupa and adult.

Eggs: The adult female butterfly lays the eggs on the surface or on the latter side of a leaf. They choose curry leaves or citrus leaves as the first instars of larva eat only those leaves. Eggs are yellow in colour, round and have a leathery surface. They hatch into a larva a few millimetres in length.

Larva: In common usage we call it caterpillar. There are about five instars (stages) of larvae in the life cycle of the Common Mormon. The first instars are yellow in colour. They eat their own eggshell in the early stage and then starts eating the leaf they live on. Later, they become bright green. The caterpillar grows up to five cm. It has a large head with eye like spots on either side. It has a segmented body.

There are two brown-black colour patches around the fourth segment on either side. It also has a black and white oblique band on the eighth and ninth segments. Closer to the end of the larva stage it moves very fast and increases the speed of eating.

Pupa: The larva starts emitting a sticky thread while becoming a pupa and weaves a cover around it. It looks like a cobweb at the beginning. The larvae makes it a dark green colour cocoon over-night and places it on a leaf towards the twig. It has a diamond shape. It doesn’t show segments in the body. The pupa stays inside the cocoon for about a week.

Adult butterfly: When the pupa tears the cocoon and comes out as a butterfly it is called the Great Mormon Butterfly. It has two black forewings with patterns on it. The two hindwings have a tail, there are orange colour patches all over and it has a luminous white outline too. There are two short antennae. The body of the butterfly is black, and it is segmented.

Mimicry and the Common Mormon Caterpillar

Mimicry is a trick to hide from predators. The Common Mormon Caterpillar camouflages with curry leaves or citrus leaves to hide from birds.



Pahanma Liyanage

Grade 5D

Lyceum International School