Troides priamus (Linnaeus, 1758)
Cape York Birdwing
(previously known as Ornithoptera priamus)
PAPILIONIDAE ,   PAPILIONOIDEA
 
Don Herbison-Evans
(donherbisonevans@outlook.com)
and
Stella Crossley

Troides priamus
early instar
(Photo: courtesy of Bob Miller and Ian Hill)

The regal appearance of the adult butterfly of this species presumably inspired the derivation of the scientific name priamus from that of the King Priam of Troy in the ancient Greek poem: the Iliad.

Troides priamus
late instar
(Photo: courtesy of Bob Miller and Ian Hill)

The Caterpillar is dark brown with long fleshy spines that are orange with a black tip. Some races also have more white markings. The caterpillar feeds on various members of the ARISTOLOCHIACEAE family:

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

    Troides priamus
    late instar
    (Photo: courtesy of Bob Miller and Ian Hill)

    The Caterpillar pupates sometimes on a stem of the foodplant, and sometimes elsewhere, having gone walk-about.

    Troides priamus
    male
    (Specimen: courtesy of the Macleay Museum, University of Sydney)

    The adult males and females are different. The wings of the males are green and black, with yellow spots along the margin of each hindwing. The body is yellow on top, and red under the thorax. They have a wingspan of up to 11 cms.

    Troides priamus
    female
    (Specimen: courtesy of the Macleay Museum, University of Sydney)<

    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.

    Troides priamus
    male, underside
    (Specimen: courtesy of the Macleay Museum, University of Sydney)

    The females are larger, having a wingspan up to 20 cms.

    Troides priamus
    female, underside
    (Specimen: courtesy of the Macleay Museum, University of Sydney)

    The eggs of this species are cream and spherical, and 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.

    Troides priamus
    (Courtesy : Kraft Australia)

    In Australia, several races are recognised, including :

  • macalpinei from around the Iron Range on Cape York, and
  • pronomus from the tip of Cape York. Pronomus has been said to be one of the sons of the God Hermes in Ancient Greek Mythology.

    Other races occur on New Guinea, where it is farmed for sale to collectors.

    Troides priamus
    Fujairah, 1971
    Troides priamus
    Papua New Guinea, 1966

    In Irian Jaya, it is considered a pest, as the adult males are very competitive, and attack other species of birdwing that are less common.

    Troides priamus
    ( Australia Post, 2003)


    Further reading :

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

    Carl Linnaeus,
    Insecta Lepidoptera,
    Systema Naturae,
    Volume 1, Edition 10 (1760), Class 5, Part 3, p. 458, No. 1.

    N. Mark Collins & Michael G. Morris,
    Threatened Swallowtail Butterflies of the World: The IUCN Red Data Book,
    International Union for Conservation of Nature, 1985.


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    (updated 30 January 2010)