The Queen Alexandra's Birdwing butterfly is the largest butterfly in the world, and also the largest winged insect. At adulthood, the larger female's head and body length reaches up to 3.2 inches and the wingspan up to 12 inches. Male Birdwing butterflies have a bright yellow body with green and blue markings, while females are mainly brown with cream and white spots, a cream body and a red tuft of fur on the thorax.
Queen Alexandra's Birdwing butterfly is a very rare species. Its natural habitat is in northern Papua New Guinea, in valleys just east of the Owen Stanley Mountains. It is a tropical butterfly. Its preferred natural habitat includes lowland coastal rainforest.
During the caterpillar stage of life these butterflies eat their own eggshells after hatching. Then they consume the aristolochia plant, also known as the pipevine plant, which contains a poison that makes them distasteful to predators. As a caterpillar, it eats constantly. It will molt several times before going into the pupa stage. During this time, of about a month, it will not eat or drink but lives in a suspended state. This rare species feeds on the nectar of flowers. Queen Alexandra's Birdwing butterfly has a proboscis with which it sucks nectar from flowers. They rarely go down to earth, but rather spend their time in the canopies of forest trees.
The Queen Alexandra's Birdwing butterfly relies on the aristolochia plant to reproduce. It is the only plant in their natural habitat where they will lay eggs. When their young hatch they can feed on the plant and protect themselves from predators. This species mates once then dies. Its butterfly stage lasts only three months.
Role in the Ecosystem
Queen Alexandra's Birdwing butterflies are very important to their habitat. Since they spend most of their time in the canopies of trees, they can reach plants that are unattainable to other insects and animals. They help to pollinate these flowering plants. In the butterfly state, their brightly colored wings warn predators that they are poisonous.
Since the Queen Alexandra's Birdwing butterfly's habitat is so limited, it is especially vulnerable to habitat loss. Some of the threats to its natural habitat are logging, agriculture and human settlement. According to the Natural History Museum of the U.K., as of 2010 this species' natural habitat is limited to 100 square kilometers (less than 65 square miles). Collectors pose another threat. They try to capture these rare butterflies and ship them to foreign countries. A specimen is often worth thousands of dollars. According to the American Museum of Natural History, the Birdwing butterflies are endangered. It is illegal to catch and sell them.
What's in the Name
The Queen Alexandra's Birdwing butterfly was named after Queen Alexandra of Great Britain. It was discovered in 1906 by Mr. A. S. Meek, who shot a female butterfly out of the sky. According to the Natural History Museum's website, Meek then gave the butterfly to Lord Walter Rothchild who named it after the then-queen in 1907.