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Ornithoptera alexandrae , Queen Alexandra Birdwing

There are thirty known species of Birdwing Butterflies; inhabiting Asia, Indonnesia, Papua New Guinea, Queensland, and the Solomon Islands. They are called birdwings because of their enourmous size and their strong graceful flight. Many of these buterflies are larger than some small birds! Currently all species of birdwings are protected under CITES and are listed as endangered.

The Queen Alexandra lives only in Papua New Guinea. Populations are isolated to several small tracts of land. This island is mostly mountainous. Thankfully the government of Paupau New Guinea is very interested in conservation of all forms. Because of their involvement, there is hope for the Queen Alexandra Birdwing who may have otherwise already gone extinct.

O. alexandrae is the largest butterfly on Earth. Some females have a wingspace up to 27.5 cm. Females are brown, yellow, tans, and beige. It is the males who are the true beauties, perhaps because of sexual selection. These butterflies gain chemical defenses from the pipvine Aristolochia dielsiana, which they feed on exclusively as larvae.

Buttefly farming has been very succesful in conserving the native butterflies of Paupa New Guinea. The government offers cash insentives to local people who conserve native areas and legally harvest insects for export. Early education programs have also been helpful in teaching native children the value of appreciating local diversity. The black market, where specimens of O. alexandrae used to sell for thousands of dollars, will hopefully be dimished by the continuing success of butterfly farming.



Orsak, L.J. "Killing butterflies to save butterflies: a tool for tropical forest conservation in Papua New Guinea" News of the Lepidopterists Society. 1993 (3) 71-80

Written by: Amanda Mirto, 2006

Last Update: Eric Denemark, 2008

Image credit: Image Credit