THE WORLD'S LARGEST BUTTERFLY - Ornithoptera alexandrae

THE WORLD'S LARGEST BUTTERFLY - Ornithoptera alexandrae



The Queen Alexandra's Birdwing butterfly - Ornithoptera alexandrae, is truly a 'King' amongst its peers. It is without challenge the largest butterfly in the world, but sadly it is considered endangered by the IUCN. It is restricted to approximately 100 square kilometres of coastal rainforest near Popondetta, Oro Province, Papua New Guinea.

Female Ornithoptera alexandrae
Nonetheless there are abundant local populations but the Queen Alexandra's Birdwing butterfly requires old growth rainforest for its long term survival. The eruption of nearby Mount Lamington in the 1950s destroyed a very large area of this species' former habitat and is a key reason behind its current rarity. Be that as it may its remaining habitat is still under threat as it is being destroyed oil palm plantations.

The Queen Alexandra's Birdwing butterfly was named by Walter Rothschild in 1907, in honour of Alexandra of Denmark. However it was actually discovered by Albert Stewart Meek in 1906 a collector who was employed by Walter Rothschild to collect natural history specimens from Papua New Guinea.

The credentials regarding Meeks collecting abilities are currently under question as the first specimen was taken with the aid of a small shotgun. However, Meek soon discovered their pupae and collected the adults as they emerged.

Male form - Ornithoptera alexandrae
As it turns out there is sexual dimorphism in this species. Female Queen Alexandra's Birdwings are larger than males with markedly rounder, broader wings. The female's wingspan is a massive 12 inches, while the body length is almost 3 1/5 inches. The female is rather drab in colouration compared to the male with brown wings with white markings arranged as two rows of chevrons.

The male has wings that are long with angular apices. They are iridescent bluish-green with a black central band. The wingspan of the males is around 9 inches at most, but more usually specimens are seen with a span of about 6 inches.

Robert Nash file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic license.
Mark Pellegrini file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license.

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