Ornithoptera euphorion (Gray, [1853])
Cairns Birdwing
(also known as Troides euphorion)
Don Herbison-Evans
Stella Crossley

Ornithoptera euphorion
early instar
(Photo: courtesy of Nick Monaghan, Mossman Gorge, Queensland)

The origin of the scientific name euphorion for this species may be associated any of a number of significant figures in Greek mythology: named Euphorion.

The early instars of this Caterpillar are dark brown, with pairs of long fleshy spines along the back and side, the fifth dorsal pair being orange.

Ornithoptera euphorion
(Photo: courtesy of Jan MacDonald, Finch Hatton, Queensland)

In later instars of the pairs of long fleshy spines become orange with a black tip, and the fifth pair of spines become yellow.

The caterpillar feeds on various members of the ARISTOLOCHIACEAE family:

  • Indian Birthwort ( Aristolochia indica ),
  • Richmond Butterfly Vine ( Aristolochia praevenosa ),
  • Birthwort ( Aristolochia tagala ), and
  • Mountain Aristolochia ( Pararistolochia deltantha ).

    The female butterfly is foolish, and is also inclined to lay her eggs on:

  • Elegant Dutchman's Pipe ( Aristolochia littoralis ),

    but the caterpillars feeding on this vine die at around the second instar, because it is poisonous to them, as it is to caterpillars of Troides richmondia and Cressida cressida. It is now an important project in the conservation of these Australian butterfly species to try to eliminate occurrences of Aristolochia littoralis in the bush along the east coast of Australia, and to encourage people to grow in their gardens: Aristolochia praevenosa and Aristolochia tagala

    Ornithoptera euphorion
    (Specimen: courtesy of the Butterfly House, Coffs Harbour)

    The caterpillar pupates most often after travelling upward to the nearest different tree branch, and getting under a leaf. The pupa of the male is yellow-green, and that of the female is bronze.

    Ornithoptera euphorion
    (Photo: courtesy of CSIRO/BIO Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics, University of Guelph)

    The adult males and females are different. The wings of the female are black and white, with yellow spots along the margin of each hindwing. The body is yellow, with red under the thorax. The females are larger than the males, and have a wingspan up to 20 cms.

    Ornithoptera euphorion
    (Photo: courtesy Brett Howton, Narangba, Queensland)

    The wings of the males are green and black, also with yellow spots around the margin of each hindwing. The body is yellow on top, and red under the thorax.

    Troides euphorion
    female underside
    (Specimen: courtesy of
    the Butterfly House,
    Coffs Harbour)
    Troides euphorion
    male underside
    (Photo: courtesy of
    Nick Monaghan,
    Cairns, Queensland)

    The undersides of forewings of the males are like the upper surfaces, but the undersides of the hindwings are yellow rather than green. The undersides of the females are similar to the upper surfaces.

    Ornithoptera euphorion
    mating pair: female above, male hanging by the tail
    (Photo: courtesy of Donald Simpson, Magnetic Island, Queensland)

    The species occurs in

  • north Queensland, between Cooktown and Mackay.

    Ornithoptera euphorion
    egg, magnified
    (Photo: courtesy of Ken Walker, Cairns, Queenskand)

    The eggs of this species are spherical, and initially pale yellow, developing coloured patches as they near hatching. The eggs are often laid singly on plants adjacent to, but not on, the foodplant. This appears to be a response to a defence that the ARISTOLOCHIACEAE plants have developed against caterpillars. These plants secrete a juice in response to an egg being laid on them. The juice causes mould to grow which kills the egg.

    The status of Troides euphorion as a species, rather than as a subspecies of Troides priamus, is controversial, as is its placement in Triodes rather than in Ornithoptera, but here we follow Nielsen, Edwards, and Rangsi in treating it as the separate species Troides euphorion.

    Ornithoptera euphorion      Ornithoptera euphorion
    (Pictures: courtesy of Kraft and Instant Scratch-Its)

    This species is featured at Coffs Harbour Butterfly House. Butterflies of this species may be purchased for release at weddings etc.

    Ornithoptera euphorion
    ( Australia Post, 1981)

    Further reading :

    Michael F. Braby,
    Butterflies of Australia,
    CSIRO Publishing, Melbourne 2000, vol. 1, pp. 284-286.

    George Robert Gray,
    Lepidopterous Insects : Papilionidae,
    Catalogue of Lepidopterous Insects in the Collection of the British Museum,
    Part 1, Volume 4 (1853), p. 4, No. 6, and also Plate 2, Figure 3.

    Australian Butterflies
    Australian Moths

    (updated 25 April 2011, 31 October 2022)