Kamehameha Butterfly

kamehamehaMarch 1, 2010


I am trying to captive breed the Kamehameha Butterfly. Once I have a colony, I will supply the Butterfly tent at the Hilo Zoo. I have a photo of the caterpillar, but cannot attach it . Does anyone know their life-cycle? Any info would be welcome. They eat the Mamake plant.

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I did a bit of research and found the attached link to photos of the butterfly and caterpillar. They are in the same genus as our Red Admiral, Painted Lady, and American Lady butterfly. Its host is as you state, which is in the Urticaceae, or Nettle, family, which could also include Stinging Nettle and False Nettle. Many of us in the states use the False Nettle (Boehmeria cylindrica) as a host for the Red Admiral because it does not have the stinging hairs like the common Stinging Nettle.

I have not been able to find any info on eggs, egg laying, the caterpillar stages (instars) or images of the chrysalis, but I would imagine it to be similar to the Red Admiral. The Red Admiral lays her eggs on the tips of the False Nettle. When they hatch, the tiny caterpillar weaves a nest of the tender new foliage and feeds from the inside of the leaf nest, moving onto another leaf as it consumes most of the nest. It then folds a part of the leaf over and "sews" it closed, residing inside the leaf nest and feeding until that leaf is consumed. In about the 4th instar it folds in half entire leaf. Nests on tips and folded leaf shelters are good indications of the presence of a caterpillar.

After the caterpillar reaches its final instar of growth, it fastens itself to a leaf or stem and forms a chrysalis, from which the butterfly ecloses in about 10-14 days.

I found this link that discusses the similar feeding habits of the Kamehameha Butterfly to the Red Admiral butterfly.


Maybe someone can hyperlink the above? Otherwise copy and paste into your browser.

I also found that the adult butterfly obtains nectar from rotting fruit, feces, and sap flows, which is also how the Red Admiral obtains its nectar. I put up a suet feeder and place a rotting banana inside. I find Red Admirals love this feeder, too, so I would imagine the Kamehameha Butterfly would be attracted to this type of feeder as well.

Apparently this butterfly is endangered so I wish you the best of luck in trying to save this gorgeous lep!

Maybe someone like MissSherry or Sandy will have photos of the Red Admiral that will give you a better idea because it may be very similar to the Kamehameha butterfly life cycle.


Here is a link that might be useful: Kamehameha Butterfly/Caterpillar

    Bookmark   March 2, 2010 at 7:41AM
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What comes up repeatedly on a google search for this topic is
a children's book,"Pulelehua and Mamaki" By Janice Crowl, supposed to have basic life-cycle info on the Kamehameha.

    Bookmark   March 2, 2010 at 11:19PM
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Ooh~ good luck! I am certain EVERYONE would love it if you oan, indeed, help the Kamehameha butterfly come back to Hawaii! Wow! :) I wonder, if because this particular butterfly is interested in rotting fruit, that maybe if you take some fermented lilikoi, guava, and maybe some banana ONCE you've got your adults...OR, if you've got some aroumd, then have this mixture in small platters nearby. (just watch out for the nasties that may try to sneak some!)

Since I've raised loads of similar family members (and am doing a butterfly class beginning next week) I keep thinking, "What else might be helpful?" I am wonderingÂhmmÂI'd have to think what other possible host plants might this butterfly utilize? What is causing its demise? And, if you are successful, you must might want to start raising them in an enclosed environment for a short time so that you get a bigger population going. Just a thought!

Anyway, lots of luck! :)

CalSherry aka formerly known as Kuilei when I danced...Â

    Bookmark   March 2, 2010 at 11:40PM
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I started to add that fruit flies are drawn to the fruit platters of hangers, and attract hummingbirds as well. But, hummere are no hummingbirds in Hawaii!

They may also attract what are commonly called "hummingbird moths" that resemble hummingbirds in flight (rapid wing beats and hovering ability). However, I don't think, but maybe Larry Gene can answer, they eat fruit flies.

Flies and other fruit eating insects will be attracted to the feeders also, so you may want to hang them some distance from the house.

CalSherry, from what I read, the decline in population is pretty much the same as we experience in the states such as habitat loss, commercial development, etc. I had forgotten you were from Hawaii! How cool - and also that you danced - the hula?

There are only 2 butterflies native to Hawaii, the Kamehameha and the Koa butterfly. Other butterflies are found there, such as the Monarch, Painted Lady, and Gulf Fritillary, but they are not endemic to Hawaii.


    Bookmark   March 3, 2010 at 6:21PM
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Aloha -- I am the author of Pulelehua and Mamaki. Peter Van Dyke of the Amy Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden (Bishop Museum) in Capt. Cook/Kona was keeping them in captivity but last I heard they could not close the entire life cycle. That is, they are able to raise the larva until adult, but they have not been able to perfect the food that will sustain the adult butterflies in captivity. Theirs was a scientific project. I suggest you contact them. Also, the Butterfly Society of Hawaii has a butterfly garden in Foster Botanical Garden on Oahu with knowledgeable members. You should contact them as well.

If you will be taking native butterflies out of the wild and putting them into an enclosure, please remember that you will be reducing the wild populations that can regenerate. While not endangered, there are fewer Kamehameha B's these days due to habitat destruction and nonnative parasites/predators. I hope that you will do as much research as possible before you start. Good luck! I'll be interested in what you discover. BTW, my blog has some info on mamaki (use the search box.)

Here is a link that might be useful: Hawaii Gardening blog

    Bookmark   April 23, 2010 at 5:01AM
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fighting8r(10 Fort Myers Florida)

Well good luck and keep us posted on this.

And CalSherry, glad to know who to contact next time I am looking for a hukilau lession!

    Bookmark   April 23, 2010 at 1:22PM
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fighting8r(10 Fort Myers Florida)

CalSherry, make that a spelling lesson.

Sorry, all, to get off-topic, again.

    Bookmark   April 23, 2010 at 1:26PM
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Was looking through images of mamake plants - they seem to grow well in Hawaii.

The butterfly sure does look like our Red Admiral. Am in the process of raising Red Admirals at this time. They used Florida pellitory that was growing wild in my yard. Have released one and the others are still in chrysalis form.

Am of the same thinking as Pulelehua. Some states do not want anyone keeping endangered species in captivity. Seems if you are helping to increase the population they should look on you kindly.

I raise and release the uncommon and rare butterflies when I can - we don't have any endangered butterflies here though - but we do get some strays from Mexico.

Now considering Hawaii doesn't have a lot of butterfly species to beging with I say saving the ones you have is a good thing!!!

Best of luck!!!

~ Cat
from the Lower Rio Grande Valley in Texas - the land with over 320 recorded species :o)

    Bookmark   April 23, 2010 at 3:34PM
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I have mamaki growing in the mesic forest remnant in which I live. All the mamaki was planted by me. Every year, right around Easter, I see at least one kamehameha butterfly. Several years ago I saw a mature caterpillar feeding on a mamaki leaf. In the last few days I have been observing a small green caterpillar feeding on a young mamaki plant. It's growing. I will take photos and see what happens. Since I often squash caterpillars I find eating the native plants I have planted, I'm glad I realized this might be the kamehameha caterpillar.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2011 at 2:05AM
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