Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing (Ornithoptera alexandrae)
- Family: Papilionidae
- Genus: Ornithoptera
- Scientific Name: Ornithoptera alexandrae
The Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing is the largest butterfly in the world and is known for their vibrant coloration. The species is relatively new and was discovered only in 1906 by English naturalist and bird collector Albert Stewart Meek, in forests of New Guinea. The males of these giant arthropods are much smaller in size than their female counterparts. The species has been declared as ‘EN’ (Endangered) by the IUCN 2.3 since they are decreasing in population due to deforestation and resultant habitat loss.
Description and Identification
They have a black body with red tubercles all over, as well as a saddle or band of cream color at the center of their body. A newborn larva eats its own eggshell just as it comes out of its egg. Soon after, they begin feasting on the fresh foliage, as well as the flower petals, of their host plant.
It takes around six weeks for the insect to reach the stage of the chrysalis. The cocoon has a golden yellow to tan coloration with distinct black marks on the body. This stage lasts for about a month or sometimes a little more.
Sexual Dimorphism: Distinctly visible
Color and Appearance: When the wings are open, the female butterflies display a brown coloration with white marks patterned in a pair of rows of chevrons in their primary wings, while the hindwings are also brown, but having submarginal lines of centered triangles in dull white to yellow. The males show an iridescent blue-green hue in both the primary and secondary wings along with a black band at the center. When the wings are closed, both the sexes display a fainter version of the dorsal sides along with darker veins.
Average wingspan: Males – 20 cm (8 inches); Females – 25 cm (9.8 inches)
Flight pattern: Slow and erratic
Large and light yellow with a flattened base
|Distribution||Papua and New Guinea, especially in the Oro Province|
|Habitat||Lowland coastal rainforests|
|Lifespan of adults||Normally up to 3 months|
|Host plants||Totally reliant on a species of toxic pipevine plant Aristolochia schlecteri|
|Adult diet||Flower nectar|
Did You Know?
- The female of the species is capable of laying over 240 eggs throughout its life.
- The caterpillars are adapted to consuming its toxic host plant, eating which, they themself become toxic to their enemies and predators.
- The sex of the pupa of this species can also be distinguished, with the males having a vague charcoal patch on their wing cases.
- The species was named in honor of the Danish queen consort of the king of UK, Edward VII, and the then ‘Empress of India’, Alexandra of Denmark.
- The butterfly can weigh as much as 12 grams, which is quite ‘heavy’ in comparison to the entire butterfly family.