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Goliath Birdwing (Ornithoptera goliath)


Goliath Birdwing

Goliath Birdwing is the second largest butterfly species in the world, next only to Queen Alexandra’s birdwing. The butterfly is found in a very limited area in New Guinea in five local subspecies. This species is also the second most poisonous butterfly in the world, though its poison can’t kill people.

Scientific Classification

  • Family: Papilionidae
  • Genus: Ornithoptera
  • Scientific Name: Ornithoptera goliath

Goliath Birdwings are highly popular because of their size and bizarre coloration. The rural inhabitants of New Guinea farm the Goliath birdwings for generating income especially by selling them to the foreign collectors. This trade is legal, provided that a permit has been obtained beforehand.

Description and Identification


The mature larva is dark brown in color with spine-like protrusions all over the body. These structures are dark with orange in the middle. The larvae can produce a bad odor as a defense. They shed their skin almost up to five times before attaining the stage of a fully grown caterpillar. The young larvae begins with feeding on new leaves, but as they grow older, they target the older ones, and finally, feast upon the severed bark of the stems.


The chrysalis is light brown with prominent segments, giving them the look of a dead leaf. It hangs itself from branches and twigs with the help of a silk thread on the underside of a leaf. When it finally comes out of its cocoon, it takes 3-4 hours to dry the large wings, as also, to let the blood flow to the wings.

Adult Butterfly

Sexual Dimorphism: Distinctly visible

Color and Appearance: When the wings are open, the dorsal sides of the primary wings in the males show a very bright green coloration with a central black blotch running diagonally towards the upper outer corner, along with a few tan orange strokes and an outer black border. The secondary wings has yellow as the base color with black borders and dark venation. There are green dots and marks at the outer end. The significantly-larger females are completely different with a chocolate brown coloration on both the pairs, with the upper wings having random cream blotches and a line of dots running parallel to the outer margin. The lower wings are half cream or yellowish cream with a brown dot in each segment formed by the venation. When the wings are closed, the underside of the male is similar to the upper side, except the absence of the black borders, whereas the underside of the female is quite like the upper side except that the hues are stronger.

Ornithoptera goliath
Goliath Birdwing Butterfly

Average wingspan: 28 cm (11 in)

Flight pattern: Leisurely, but controlled and powerful


Up to 20 round, dull yellow eggs laid singly on the host plant’s leaves or branches

Quick Facts

Distribution & Habitat Dense tropical rainforests of New Guinea and adjacent smaller islands
Lifespan of adults About 12 months
Host plants Not known
Adult diet Flower nectar, flowers (including Spathodea campanulata)

Did You Know?

  • If consumed, the poison of the butterfly is enough to kill smaller animals like rats, spiders, grasshoppers, etc.
  • Because of its large size, the butterfly is named after Goliath, a Philistine giant mentioned in the Bible that was defeated by the young David. The subspecies have also been named after other Biblical giants, viz., Atlas, Titan, and Samson.
  • Due to the cryptic underside coloration in males, they cannot be seen easily, as they rest with wings folded. On the contrary, the brownish females rest with their wings open.
Goliath Butterfly Birdwing Habitat
Male Goliath Birdwing
Female Goliath Birdwing

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