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Zoom Butterflies
Queen Alexandra's Birdwing Butterfly
Ornitoptera alexandrae

Female Queen Alexandra's Birdwing butterfly Male Queen Alexandra's Birdwing butterfly


Queen Alexandra's Birdwing is the biggest butterfly in the world, with a wingspan up to 1 ft (30 cm) wide. This rare, tropical butterfly is from a lowland coastal rainforest in New Guinea. This huge butterfly is on the US Endangered Species List. Its rainforest habitat is being reduced as oil palm plantations are created.

This enormous butterfly was named by Alfred S. Meek (in 1907) to honor Queen Alexandra (1844-1925), the Danish wife of King Edward VII of England (1841-1910).

DESCRIPTION AT EACH STAGE OF THE LIFE-CYCLE
Butterflies and moths undergo complete metamorphosis in which they go through four different life stages. It takes about a month for the egg to mature into an adult.

. Egg: A butterfly starts its life as an egg. The female Queen Alexandra's Birdwing lays its eggs on the pipevine plant (Aristolochia schlecteri). When the egg hatches, its meals (the leaves of this plant) are easily available.
Caterpillar: The larva (caterpillar) hatches from an egg and eats Aristolochia schlecteri (pipevine) leaves almost constantly. The caterpillar molts (loses its old skin) many times as it grows. The caterpillar is black with red tentacles, a cream-colored spot in the middle of its body, and long, fleshy tentacles all over its body.
. Pupa: It turns into a pupa (chrysalis) the size of a person's thumb. As the body transforms into a butterfly within the chrysalis, it neither eats nor drinks.
Adult: A beautiful, flying adult emerges. There is no growth during this stage, but the butterfly will sip nectar. This adult will continue the cycle by reproducing. The female is larger and brown with cream spots and a cream-colored body with a red tuft of fur on the thorax; the male is brown with blue and green markings and a bright yellow abdomen. The life span of the adult is about 3 months.


HOW TO TELL A MALE FROM A FEMALE

Female (left) and male (right) Queen Alexandra's Birdwing

The males and females are very different in size, wing coloration, pattern, and shape, and body color. The female is larger, has brown wings (with white markings) and has a cream-colored body with a red tuft of fur on the thorax. The male is smaller, much brighter (with blue and green marking on its wings) and a bright yellow body.

DIET
The caterpillar's first meal is its own eggshell. After that, the caterpillars eat the pipevine plant (Aristolochia schlecteri), incorporating its poison into their bodies, becoming distasteful to predators. The plant is a long-leaved, tree-climbing vine with seed pods.

Butterflies can only sip liquid food using a tube-like proboscis, which is a long, flexible "tongue." This proboscis uncoils to sip food, and coils up again into a spiral when not in use.

PROTECTION FROM PREDATORS
Queen Alexandra's Birdwing is a poisonous butterfly; it obtains its poison from the toxic pipevine plant (Aristolochia schlecteri). Animals that eat it will get very sick and vomit (but generally do not die). These animals remember that this brightly-colored butterfly made them very sick and will avoid all butterflies with similar markings in the future.

HABITAT AND RANGE
Queen Alexandra's Birdwing has a very localized distribution. This very rare (and endangered) butterfly is only found a small strip of lowland coastal rainforest in northern Papua New Guinea (east of the Owen Stanley Mountains). They live in lowland tropical forests.

LIFE SPAN
It takes about a month for the adult to develop (from egg to pupa to adult).

PRINTOUT
Queen Alexandra's Birdwing printout for elementary school students.

CLASSIFICATION
Order: Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths)
Family: Papilionidae (apollos, swallowtails, and birdwings)
Genus: Troides (=Ornithoptera) (bird-wing butterflies)
species: alexandrae

Information Sheets About Butterflies (and Moths)

Just click on an animal's name to go to that information sheet. If the butterfly (or moth) you're interested in isn't here, check the Butterfly Dictionary.

Monarch Butterfly

Queen Alexandra's Birdwing Butterfly

Painted Lady Butterfly
Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly

Zebra Swallowtail Butterfly


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