Paper Kite

Scientific Name
Idea leuconoe
Specie in
Idea leuconoe, Penang, West Malaysia - Fiona Le maitre
Idea leuconoe, Penang, West Malaysia – Fiona Le maitre – Adrian Hoskins


The subfamily Danainae, which includes the Monarchs, Tigers, Crows and Tree Nymphs, comprises of about 190 species worldwide.

All Danaines are thought to be distasteful to birds. Their bodies contain toxins which are derived from the lactiferous larval foodplants, and are often supplemented by further toxins sequestered from adult food sources. The bright wing patterns “advertise” these unpalatable qualities, in much the same way that the bands of yellow and black of wasps advertise the fact that they can sting. Consequently any bird that suffers the highly unpleasant experience of tasting a Danaine is unlikely to attack other similarly coloured butterflies. Effectively, a few individuals are sacrificed for the good of the species as a whole.

There are 12 Idea species, of which 5 occur in West Malaysia i.e. hypermnestra, leuconoe, lynceus, iasonia and stolli. The other 7 species are found variously in India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, the Philippines, Sumatra, Borneo, Sulawesi, Irian and Papua New Guinea.

Tree Nymphs are very large butterflies, characterised by having translucent white wings patterned with black veins, and numerous oval black spots. They are noted for their slow and very graceful flight, which gives them the appearance of white handkerchiefs floating gently on the breeze.

Idea leuconoe occurs in West Malaysia, and possibly on Taiwan and the Philippines, although there is some confusion among taxonomists about whether the non-Malaysian forms are subspecies of leuconoe, or of another species.


This is a relatively common species occurring in coastal mangrove forest and lowland rainforest at altitudes between sea level and about 400m.


To be completed.

Adult behaviour

These beautiful insects, known variously as Tree Nymphs, Paper Kites, and Rice Paper butterflies, have a very slow and extraordinarily graceful flight. It might appear therefore that they would easily fall victim to avian predators, but like all Danaines Idea are poisonous or highly unpalateable to birds and are not often attacked. The slow flight is their way of advertising the very distinctive pattern, which birds, through past experience, associate with a very unpleasant taste.

In sunny conditions males usually rest with the wings erect or partly open, ready to take flight to intercept potential mates. In cool or cloudy weather they are more relaxed and can sometimes be found feeding at flowers at the side of roads. When feeding they tend to slowly flutter or fan their wings, but when settled on foliage they will bask with wings fully outspread.

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Butterfly of
Scientific Name
Idea leuconoe

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