Queen Alexandra's birdwing

Last updated

Queen Alexandra's birdwing
Ornithoptera alexandrae.png
Female (above) and male (below), not to scale
CITES Appendix I (CITES) [2]
Scientific classification Red Pencil Icon.png
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Lepidoptera
Family: Papilionidae
Genus: Ornithoptera
Subgenus: Straatmana
Deslisle, 2007
Species:
O. alexandrae
Binomial name
Ornithoptera alexandrae
(Rothschild, 1907)
Synonyms

Troides alexandraeRothschild, 1907 [3]

Ornithoptera alexandrae, the Queen Alexandra's birdwing, is the largest species of butterfly in the world, with females reaching wingspans slightly in excess of 25 cm to 28 cm (9.8 inches to 11 inches). [4] [5] This birdwing is restricted to the forests of the Oro Province in eastern Papua New Guinea.

Contents

The species is endangered and one of only three insects (the other two being butterflies as well) to be listed on Appendix I of CITES, making commercial international trade illegal. [6]

History

The species was discovered in 1906 by Albert Stewart Meek, a collector employed by Walter Rothschild to collect natural history specimens from New Guinea. In the next year, Rothschild named the species in honour of Alexandra of Denmark. Although the first specimen was taken with the aid of a small shotgun, Meek soon discovered the early stages and bred out most of the first specimens. [7]

Though most authorities now classify this species in the genus Ornithoptera, it has formerly been placed in the genus Troides or the now defunct genus Aethoptera. In 2001 the lepidopterist Gilles Deslisle proposed placing it in its own subgenus (which some writers have treated as a genus); he originally proposed the name Zeunera, but this is a junior homonym (with Zeunera Piton 1936 [Orthoptera]), and his replacement is Straatmana. [8]

Description

Female: Female Queen Alexandra's birdwings are larger than males with markedly rounder, broader wings. The female can reach, and slightly exceed, a wingspan of 25 cm to 28 cm (9.8 inches to 11 inches), a body length of 8 cm (3.1 in) and a body mass of up to 12 g (0.42 oz), all enormous measurements for a butterfly. The female has brown wings with white markings arranged as two rows of chevrons. The hindwings are brown with a submarginal line of centred yellow triangles. The body is cream coloured and there is a small section of red fur on the brown thorax.

Male: There is sexual dimorphism in this species. The wings are long with angular apices. They are iridescent bluish green with a black central band. There is a pronounced sex brand. The underside is green or blue green with black veins. Males are smaller than females. The abdomen is bright yellow. The wingspan of the males can be approximately 20 cm (8 in), but more usually about 16 cm (6.3 in). A spectacular form of the male is form atavus, which has gold spots on the hindwings. [9]

Biology

Eggs

The eggs are large, light yellow and flattened at the base, fixated to the surface on which they are laid by a bright-orange substance. Under ideal conditions, the female Queen Alexandra's Birdwing is capable of laying over 240 eggs throughout its life.

Larva

Pararistolochia (some species were formerly Aristolochia) Pararistolochia promissa1.jpg
Pararistolochia (some species were formerly Aristolochia )

Newly emerged larvae eat their own eggshells before feeding on fresh foliage. The larva is black with red tubercles and has a cream-coloured band or saddle in the middle of its body.

A lateral photograph of the Queen Alexandra Birdwing Butterfly caterpillar. 013602462 Ornithoptera alexandrae lateral larva.jpg
A lateral photograph of the Queen Alexandra Birdwing Butterfly caterpillar.

Larvae of this species feed on the shell from which they hatched and then start to extract nutrients from pipe vines of the genus Pararistolochia (family Aristolochiaceae), including P. dielsiana and P. schlecteri. They feed initially on fresh foliage of the host plants and their own eggs, ultimately causing ringbark to the vine before pupating. Plants of the family Aristolochiaceae contain aristolochic acids in their leaves and stems. This is believed to be a potent vertebrate poison and is accumulated by larvae during their development.

Pupa

The pupa is golden yellow or tan in colour with black markings. Male pupae may be distinguished by a faint charcoal patch on the wing cases; this becomes a band of special scales in the adult butterfly called a sex brand. The time taken for this species to develop from egg to pupa is approximately six weeks, with the pupal stage taking a month or more. Adults emerge from the pupae early in the morning while humidity is still high, as the enormous wings may dry out before they have fully expanded if the humidity drops.


Imago

A dorsal photograph of the Holotype female of Queen Alexandra's Birdwing Butterfly. 013602472 Ornithoptera alexandrae dorsal female Holotype.jpg
A dorsal photograph of the Holotype female of Queen Alexandra's Birdwing Butterfly.

The adults may live for three months or more and have few predators, excluding large orb weaving spiders (Nephila species) and some small birds. Adults feed at flowers providing a broad platform for the adults to land on, including Hibiscus . The adults are powerful fliers most active in the early morning and again at dusk when they actively feed at flowers.

Males also patrol areas of the host plants for newly emerged females early in the morning. Females may be seen searching for host plants for most of the day. Courtship is brief but spectacular; males hover above a potential mate, dousing her with a pheromone to induce mating. Receptive females will allow the male to land and pair, while unreceptive females will fly off or otherwise discourage mating. Males are strongly territorial and will see off potential rivals, sometimes chasing small birds as well as other birdwing species. The flight is usually high in the rainforest canopy, but both sexes descend to within a few meters of the ground while feeding or laying eggs.


Threats and conservation

Raising the flagship profile with mounted specimens, collected or bred when the insect was not endangered. Ornithoptera alexandrae.jpg
Raising the flagship profile with mounted specimens, collected or bred when the insect was not endangered.

The Queen Alexandra's birdwing is considered endangered by the IUCN, [1] being restricted to approximately 100 km2 (40 sq mi) of coastal rainforest near Popondetta, Oro Province, Papua New Guinea. It is nonetheless abundant locally and requires old growth rainforest for its long-term survival. The major threat for this species is habitat destruction for oil palm plantations. However, the eruption of nearby Mount Lamington in the 1950s destroyed a very large area of this species' former habitat and is a key reason for its current rarity.

The species is also highly prized by collectors, and because of its rarity, this butterfly fetches a very high price on the black market, reportedly US$8,500-10,000 in the United States in 2007. [10] In 2001, renowned Canadian researcher Gilles Deslisle was fined CA$50,000 for illegally importing six specimens of Queen Alexandra's birdwings. [11] In 2007, "global butterfly smuggler" Hisayoshi Kojima pleaded guilty to 17 charges after selling a number of endangered butterflies, including a pair of Queen Alexandra's birdwings priced at US$8,500, to a special agent with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. [10]

Early collectors, frustrated by the height at which adults fly during the day, often used small shotguns to down specimens, but because collectors demand high quality specimens for their collections, most specimens are reared from larvae or pupae.

Although collectors are often implicated with the decline of this species, habitat destruction is the main threat.

The species is listed on Appendix I of CITES, meaning that international commercial trade is illegal. At the 2006 meeting of the CITES Animals Committee, some suggested it should be moved to Appendix II (which would allow restricted trade in the species), as the conservation benefits of sustainable management perhaps are higher than those of the trade ban. [12]


See also

Related Research Articles

Swallowtail butterfly Butterflies of family Papilionidae

Swallowtail butterflies are large, colorful butterflies in the family Papilionidae, and include over 550 species. Though the majority are tropical, members of the family inhabit every continent except Antarctica. The family includes the largest butterflies in the world, the birdwing butterflies of the genus Ornithoptera.

Birdwing Butterflies in swallowtail family

Birdwings are butterflies in the swallowtail family, that belong to the genera Trogonoptera, Troides, and Ornithoptera. Most recent authorities recognise 36 species, however, this is debated, and some authorities include additional genera. Birdwings are named for their exceptional size, angular wings, and birdlike flight. They are found across tropical Asia, mainland and archipelagic Southeast Asia, and Australasia.

<i>Ornithoptera</i> Species of butterfly

Ornithoptera is a genus of birdwing butterflies found in the northern portion of the Australasian realm, east of Weber's line; the Moluccas, New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and northeastern Australia. Except for Ornithoptera richmondia, which may be found in far northeastern New South Wales, Australia, therefore the southernmost distribution of birdwings. This genus includes the two largest butterfly species in the world, the Queen Alexandra's birdwing and the Goliath birdwing. Ornithoptera species are highly prized by insect collectors because they are rare, large, and stunningly beautiful, arguably the most beautiful butterflies in the world.

Albert Stewart Meek was an English bird collector and naturalist.

<i>Ornithoptera goliath</i> Species of birdwing butterfly

Ornithoptera goliath, the Goliath birdwing, is a birdwing butterfly found in New Guinea. It is the second largest butterfly in the world, after the Queen Alexandra's birdwing.

<i>Trogonoptera brookiana</i> Species of butterfly

Trogonoptera brookiana, Rajah Brooke's birdwing, is a birdwing butterfly from the rainforests of the Thai-Malay Peninsula, Borneo, Natuna, Sumatra, and various small islands west of Sumatra. The butterfly was named by the naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace in 1855, after James Brooke, the Rajah of Sarawak. The larval host plants are Aristolochia acuminata and A. foveolata. Adults sip flower nectar from plants such as Bauhinia. Rajah Brooke's birdwing is a protected species, listed under Appendix II of CITES, meaning that international export is restricted to those who have been granted a permit. It is the national butterfly of Malaysia.

Rothschilds birdwing Species of birdwing butterfly

Rothschild's birdwing is a large birdwing butterfly, endemic to the Arfak Mountains in Western New Guinea.

<i>Ornithoptera euphorion</i> Species of birdwing butterfly

Ornithoptera euphorion, the Cairns birdwing, is a species of birdwing butterfly endemic to Queensland, and is Australia's largest endemic butterfly species. Other common names include Cooktown birdwing and northern birdwing. The names Cairns and Cooktown in its common name reference the Australian cities in the region where this butterfly is found.

<i>Ornithoptera chimaera</i> Species of birdwing butterfly

Ornithoptera chimaera, the chimaera birdwing, is a birdwing butterfly of the family Papilionidae. It is found in mountain areas of New Guinea, 1000 meters above sea level.

<i>Ornithoptera tithonus</i> Species of birdwing butterfly

Ornithoptera tithonus, the Tithonus birdwing, is a species of birdwing butterfly found on New Guinea and other neighbouring islands.

<i>Ornithoptera meridionalis</i> Species of birdwing butterfly

Ornithoptera meridionalis, the southern tailed birdwing, is the smallest species of the genus Ornithoptera. It is known from a handful of localities in southeast Papua, New Guinea and several localities along the south coast of Irian Jaya.

<i>Ornithoptera paradisea</i> Species of birdwing butterfly

Ornithoptera paradisea, the paradise birdwing, is a species of birdwing butterfly found in New Guinea.

<i>Ornithoptera priamus</i> Species of birdwing butterfly

Ornithoptera priamus, the common green birdwing, Cape York birdwing, Priam's birdwing, northern birdwing or New Guinea birdwing is a widespread species of birdwing butterfly found in the central and south Moluccas, New Guinea, Bismarck Archipelago, Solomon Islands, and north-east Australia.

<i>Ornithoptera victoriae</i> Species of birdwing butterfly

Ornithoptera victoriae, the Queen Victoria's birdwing, is a birdwing butterfly of the family Papilionidae, found in the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea.

<i>Ornithoptera croesus</i> Species of birdwing butterfly

Ornithoptera croesus, the Wallace's golden birdwing, is a species of birdwing butterfly found in northern Maluku in Indonesia.

<i>Ornithoptera richmondia</i> Species of birdwing butterfly

Ornithoptera richmondia, the Richmond birdwing, is a species of birdwing butterfly that is endemic to Australia. It is the second smallest of the birdwing species, the smallest being Ornithoptera meridionalis.

<i>Ornithoptera aesacus</i> Species of birdwing butterfly

Ornithoptera aesacus, the Obi Island birdwing, is a rare species of birdwing butterfly, endemic to the Island of Obira, Indonesia.

<i>Troides oblongomaculatus</i> Species of butterfly

Troides oblongomaculatus, the oblong-spotted birdwing, is a birdwing butterfly found in Indonesia and New Guinea.

Butterfly ranching in Papua New Guinea is a method for sustainable use of insect biodiversity endorsed and supported by the national government. The trade is controlled by the Insect Farming and Trading Agency, an organ of the Papua New Guinea government. Papua New Guinea has a spectacular butterfly fauna, including the world's largest butterflies, the Queen Alexandra's birdwing and the Goliath birdwing. A mosaic gynandromorphic specimen of the Goliath birdwing was sold by a Taiwanese dealer for US$28,000 in July 2006, which is possibly the world record for the highest price paid for a butterfly. Prior to the establishment of the government legislation, the butterfly trade depended upon expatriate dealers who traded in wild-caught specimens. A Food and Agriculture Organization project in the early seventies aided the government in adopting this eco-friendly utilisation scheme.

The Insect Farming and Trading Agency (IFTA) was set up by the government of Papua New Guinea in 1978 to regulate the exploitation and conservation of Queen Alexandra's Birdwing and other valuable butterflies. Papua New Guinea has a significant butterfly fauna, including the world's largest butterflies, the Queen Alexandra's Birdwing and the Goliath Birdwing. A Prior to the establishment of the government legislation, the butterfly trade depended upon expatriate dealers who traded in wild-caught specimens. A Food and Agriculture Organization project in the early seventies aided the Government in adopting this ecofriendly utilisation scheme.

References

  1. 1 2 Böhm, M. (2018). "Ornithoptera alexandrae". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species . 2018: e.T15513A88565197. doi: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2018-1.RLTS.T15513A88565197.en . Retrieved 19 November 2021.
  2. "Appendices | CITES". cites.org. Retrieved 2022-01-14.
  3. Rothschild, Walter (1907). "Troides Alexandrae spec. nov". Novitates Zoologicae. 14: 96. doi:10.5962/bhl.part.25380.
  4. November 2010, Remy Melina 04 (4 November 2010). "What's the Biggest Butterfly?". livescience.com. Retrieved 2020-07-13.
  5. "Queen Alexandra's Birdwing Butterfly Facts For Kids & Adults: Pictures, Information & Video". Active Wild. 2017-01-24. Retrieved 2020-07-13.
  6. CITES appendices I, II and III, official website
  7. "Butterflies with bullet holes".
  8. Deslisle, G. (2007) "Straatmana: a remplacement name for the subgenus Zeunera Deslisle 2001 (Lep. Papilionidae)" Lambillionea (Brussels) N° 2 vol 1 & 2, June 2007, p. 238
  9. "Endangered Species - Queen Alexandra's Birdwing Butterfly Facts" . Retrieved 2009-02-17.
  10. 1 2 O'Neill, Helen (20 August 2007). "U.S. finally nets global butterfly smuggler". NBCNews.com.
  11. "Seizures and Prosecutions" (PDF). TRAFFIC Bulletin. TRAFFIC International. 19 (2): 76–79. 2002.
  12. CITES (2006). Earth Negotiations Bulletin. Summary of the 22nd Meeting of the CITES Animals Committee.