Photos: C & D Frith
Australia's Wet Tropics Rainforest Life
Birdwing Butterfly (Ornithoptera priamus) This butterfly is also referred to as the Cairns Birdwing.
- The male birdwing is coloured in green gold and black.
- It is the largest species of butterfly found in Australia, where the female has a wingspan of 20cm.
- It has a slower, more relaxed flight than the Ulysses.
It too is found in the rainforest clearings.
- The female birdwing butterfly lays her eggs on the leaves of the Aristolochia vines.
- It sometimes sets a territory near this vigorous large leafed vine (Aristolochia tagala).
- When the caterpillars of the birdwing butterfly are almost ready to pupate they ringbark the vines on which they are feeding. The leaves then droop due to water loss, but the flow of nutrients to leaves is not affected. The large caterpillar therefore gets a more nutritious meal with less water before pupation.
- Females are often mated as soon as they emerge from their cocoons and it is not unusual for 2 or 3 males to be seen attempting to copulate with one female at once.
- The males do an early morning patrol of their search of emerging females.
- The female is able to locate the correct plants using chemical receptors in her forelegs to 'taste' various leaves. She also uses sense organs at the end of her abdomen to find tender leaves that would be suitable for caterpillar food.
- The leaves of the Aristolochia vines are poisonous. To many other caterpillars these toxins would be deadly, but the birdwing not only able to eat these leaves but also use them for their own protection.
- The birdwing caterpillars are able to store the toxins in fleshy orange-red spines one their backs and these act as protection from birds.
- In nature bright colours such as orange, red and yellow sometimes act as warnings to other animals letting them know they are either dangerous or inedible. Should a bird ignore the warning colours of the birdwing caterpillar, it is unlikely to make the same mistake again.
Additional Information: Damon Ramsey
The male is a brilliant black and green
The female is a duller black and white with yellow, but is bigger.
They are occasionally seen along Marrdja boardwalk in summer.
Script: Courtesy of Damon Ramsey BSc.(Zool) Biologist Guide
Additional Birdwing Photographs
Additional Birdwing Photographs 2
Additional Birdwing Photographs 3