The Ant, The Plant and The Butterfly


This drawing illustrates the tangled lives of the Eltham Copper butterfly (Paralucia pyrodiscus lucida Crosby), the unassuming Sweet Bursaria (Bursaria spinosa), and a species of ant (Notoncus genus).

The Eltham Copper is a rare, copper-coloured butterfly about the size of a ten cent coin. It was thought to be extinct until its rediscovery in the suburb of Eltham, near Melbourne, in the late 1980s.

Eltham Coppers are very particular with their choice of habitat. They only lay eggs on dwarf Sweet Bursaria shrubs that have a colony of a particular type of ant living in the soil at their base. Once the Eltham Copper caterpillars hatch from the eggs, they go underground to live with the ant colony and only emerge at night to browse on the leaves of the Sweet Bursaria shrub. Ants accompany the caterpillars on their foraging missions and provide protection from predators such as parasitic wasps. In return, the ants are permitted to feed on tasty secretions from the caterpillar bodies. This symbiotic relationship continues for the life of the caterpillar, after which they metamorphosis into pupae and later transform into tiny butterflies that repeat the cycle again and again.

This artwork was featured in the Brunswick Street Gallery Art Prize in 2021.

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Original graphite artwork on paper.

Size: 31 x 31 cm