Ornithoptera euphorion

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Cairns Birdwing
MG 3164.jpg
Male Cairns Birdwing, Melbourne Zoo
Troides euphorion - female - Cairns Birdwing.-14.JPG
Female, ventral view
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Lepidoptera
Family: Papilionidae
Tribe: Troidini
Genus: Ornithoptera
Species: O. euphorion
Binomial name
Ornithoptera euphorion
(Gray, 1852)
Distribution of Ornithoptera in Australia.png
Distribution of Ornithoptera euphorion (in green) and other species of Ornithoptera in Australia
  • Troides euphorion
  • Troides priamus

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.[1] The name Cairns in its common name is a reference to the Australian city in the region where this butterfly is found.


The wingspan can be up to 150 mm in females, and 125 mm in males.[1] 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.[2]

Males have a predominantly 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.[3]


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.


Adult male emerging from chrysalis
Copulating pair (female above, male below) at Melbourne Zoo

Ova: The eggs are very slightly larger than those of O. richmondia. A female may lay as many as 300 eggs in her lifetime.[2]

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, Pararistolochia 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. Consequently, it is discouaged to plant Dutchman's Pipe in Queensland, New South Wales and the Northern Territory.[2]

Pupa: Like most other species of its genus, the pupa is light brown and yellow.[2]

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.

Adults are very likely to be unpalatable to vertebrates, due to feeding on Aristolochia as a larva, although they do sometimes fall prey to the Golden silk orb-weaver.[2]


  1. ^ a b Braby (2004) p. 124
  2. ^ a b c d e Orr & Kitching (2010). The Butterflies of Australia. Jacana Books. ISBN 978 1 74175 108 6. 
  3. ^ Golden Birdwing, Insect Company.


  • 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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