Butterflies of New
and the islands of the South Pacific
DE HAAN, 1840
Family - PAPILIONIDAE
Tribe - TROIDINI
Meni, Arfak, Irian Jaya
© Jean Michel
Ornithoptera ( regarded by some authors
as a subgenus of Troides ) comprises of
some of the largest and most magnificent butterflies on Earth. There
are 13 species, including the Queen Alexandra Birdwing
alexandrae, the female of which is the
largest butterfly in the world, with a wing span of up to 20cms ( 8"
). The commonest and most widespread species is
priamus which is found in the Moluccas,
New Guinea, the Solomon islands and northern Australia.
croesus, a creature so stunningly
beautiful that it inspired the legendary explorer and naturalist
Alfred Russell Wallace to write the following :
"During my very first walk into the forest
at Batchian, I had seen sitting on a leaf out of reach, an immense
butterfly of a dark colour marked with white and yellow spots. I
could not capture it as it flew away high up into the forest, but I
at once saw that it was a female of a new species of Ornithoptera or
"bird-winged butterfly," the pride of the Eastern tropics.
I was very
anxious to get it and to find the male, which in this genus is
always of extreme beauty. During the two succeeding months I only
saw it once again, and shortly afterwards I saw the male flying high
in the air at the mining village. I had begun to despair of ever
getting a specimen as it seemed so rare and wild; till one day,
about the beginning of January, I found a beautiful shrub with large
white leafy bracts and yellow flowers, a species of Mussaenda, and
saw one of these noble insects hovering over it, but it was too
quick for me, and flew away.
The next day
I went again to the same shrub and succeeded in catching a female,
and the day after a fine male. I found it to be as I had expected, a
perfectly new and most magnificent species, and one of the most
gorgeously coloured butterflies in the world. Fine specimens of the
male are more than seven inches across the wings, which are velvety
black and fiery orange, the latter colour replacing the green of the
and brilliancy of this insect are indescribable, and none but a
naturalist can understand the intense excitement I experienced when
I at length captured it. On taking it out of my net and opening the
glorious wings, my heart began to beat violently, the blood rushed
to my head, and I felt much more like fainting than I have done when
in apprehension of immediate death. I had a headache the rest of the
day, so great was the excitement produced by what will appear to
most people a very inadequate cause."
Ornithoptera tithonus is endemic to
Irian Jaya ( the western half of New Guinea ).
This species breeds in primary rainforest in
valleys of the Arfak mountains in Irian Jaya.
To be completed.
Ornithoptera tithonus and related
birdwing species breed in the valleys of the Arfak mountains, but both
sexes "hill-top" at the ridges between the valleys, where courtship
and copulation take place. The butterflies are highly prized by
butterfly collectors, and are caught by native Papuan hunters, who
spread out large sheets of red cloth to lure the butterflies to the
ground. At a typical collecting spot, an
Ornithoptera species descends to the red cloth about once every