|Male Cairns Birdwing, Melbourne Zoo|
|Female, ventral view|
|Range of Cairns Birdwing|
The Cairns Birdwing (Ornithoptera euphorion) is a species of birdwing butterfly endemic to northeastern Australia, and is Australia's largest endemic butterfly species. Other common names include Cooktown Birdwing and Northern Birdwing. The name Cairns in its common name is a reference to the Australian city in the region where this butterfly is found.
Females have a wingspan reaching of up to 150 mm, males - 125 mm. A closely allied species, the New Guinea or Priam's Birdwing (Ornithoptera priamus) reaches 19 cm and is the largest butterfly species found in Australia, but it is not endemic. O. euphorion is quite closely related to O. richmondia, differing by its greater size and more extensive green markings in the male.
Males have a predominately black upper wing with emerald green flashes, however the female lacks the green coloring, having a plain black upper wing with white patches. The female is the larger of the two sexes.
There was a spectacular and rare genetic mutation of this butterfly, where single aberrant female produced less than 40 aberrant progeny. The females were pale instead of dark, and the males were golden instead of green.
Cairns Birdwings are found southwards from Mount Webb and Cooktown to Mackay in Queensland. Its favoured habitat is rainforest of the Queensland wet tropics region, including riverine forest, and particularly near the coast. It is also often seen in Cairns, attracted to the flowers of Lantana, Hibiscus and Bougainvillea in suburban gardens.
The species is abundant throughout its range and is not threatened.
Ova: The eggs are very slightly larger than those of O. richmondia. A female may lay as many as 300 eggs in her lifetime.
Larva: Larvae are very similar to those of O. richmondia, with coloration varying from light to dark grey. Food plants known to be utilised by the larvae are Aristolochia acuminata, A. indica, A. pubera, A. thoszetti, Paraistolochia australopithecurus, P. deltantha and P. sparusifolia. The leaves of the introduced Dutchman's Pipe (Aristolochia elegans) will kill the larvae of this species and several other swallowtail butterflies in Australia. It should not be planted anywhere in Queensland, New South Wales or the Northern Territory.
Pupa: Like most other species of its genus, the pupa is light brown and yellow.
Imago: Adult males have been known to guard females with which they have recently mated, possibly to ensure that the Sphragis does not become dislodged by another male, as it will not fully harden until approximately one day later.
Both sexes support their weight when feeding at flowers by rapidly fluttering their wings. Males occasionally compete for flowers with other nectarivores, such as small birds, and usually succeed at driving them off by aggressively flying towards them.
- D'Abrera, B. (1975) Birdwing Butterflies of the World. Country Life Books, London.
- Braby, Michael F. (2004). The Complete Field Guide to Butterflies of Australia. CSIRO Publishing. ISBN 0-643-09027-4.
- Collins, N.M., Morris, M.G., IUCN ,1985 Threatened Swallowtail Butterflies of the World: the IUCN Red Data Book (1985) IUCN pdf
- Haugum, J. & Low, A.M. 1978-1985. A Monograph of the Birdwing Butterflies. 2 volumes. Scandinavian Press, Klampenborg; 663 pp.
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