Cape York Birdwing
(previously known as Ornithoptera priamus)
(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.
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:
The Caterpillar pupates sometimes on a stem of the foodplant, and sometimes elsewhere, having gone walk-about.
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.
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, having a wingspan up to 20 cms.
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.
In Australia, several races are recognised, including :
Other races occur on New Guinea, where it is farmed for sale to collectors.
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.
Further reading :
Michael F. Braby,
Butterflies of Australia,
CSIRO Publishing, Melbourne 2000, vol. 1, pp. 284-286.
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.
(updated 30 January 2010)