Name: Queen Alexandra’s birdwing (Ornithoptera alexandrae)
Status – Endangered (EN)
Wingspan – Up to 28 centimetres
An enormous wingspan of up to 28 centimetres earns this magnificently vibrant insect the title of being the world’s biggest butterfly. Highly specialised, it feeds and reproduces on a single species of toxic vine, making the caterpillars distasteful to predators, and if consumed can cause severe vomiting.
Where am I found?
What do I eat?
Both the adult butterfly and the caterpillar feed only from the vine species Aristolochia schlechteri.
How do I live?
Queen Alexandra’s birdwing lays a single egg on the underside of one of the vine leaves and after 11 to 13 days the caterpillar hatches and eats almost constantly, growing rapidly. The vine contains a toxic substance which, although not poisonous to the caterpillar, makes it distasteful to potential predators, and may cause severe vomiting.
The caterpillar’s rapid growth is accompanied by six moults, in which the caterpillar grows new skin and sheds the former, before forming a chrysalis, in which metamorphosis takes place over a period of 40 to 45 days.
Why am I threatened?
As one of the world’s most beautiful butterflies, Queen Alexandra’s birdwing is extremely attractive to collectors. Fetching thousands of dollars per butterfly, this rare species has been severely over harvested.
However, the greatest threat to Queen Alexandra’s birdwing is the loss of its lowland rainforest habitat. Historically, forests were cleared for farming and logging, and a vast area was destroyed by the volcanic eruption of Mount Lamingtonin 1951. Today, the main cause of forest loss is the expansion of the palm oil industry, and the development of rubber and cocoa plantations.