Troides richmondia (Gray, [1853])
Richmond Birdwing
(erroneously : Ornithoptera richmondii)
PAPILIONIDAE ,   PAPILIONOIDEA
 
Don Herbison-Evans
(donherbisonevans@outlook.com)
and
Stella Crossley

Troides richmondia
(Photo: courtesy of Geoff Sharp, Ballina, New South Wales)

This species is superficially similar to the Cairns Birdwing ( Troides euphorion ), and the Cape York Birdwing ( Troides priamus ), only it is smaller. Nevertheless, the status of Troides richmondia as a separate species is controversial. The species is named after the Richmond River in the valley of which it was commonly found, in northern New South Wales.

Troides richmondia
caterpillar with osmeteria everted
(Photo: courtesy of Geoff Sharp, Ballina, New South Wales)

The Caterpillar is dark brown with several rows of dark spines tipped with yellow. When disturbed, the caterpillar everts a pair of yellow osmeteria from behind the head. The caterpillar grows to a length of about 6 cms. It feeds on various plants in the family ARISTOLOCHIACEAE, including:

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

    Troides richmondia
    (Photo: courtesy of Geoff Sharp, Ballina, New South Wales)

    The pupa is naked and attached to a stem or leaf of a plant by cremaster and girdle. It is normally green with flanges on the thorax, and black spikes on the abdomen. It has a length of about 4 cms.

    The adult butterflies are dimorphic.

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

    The males have black forewings, each with an iridescent green streak along the costa, and similar green spots around the tornus. The hindwings are an iridescent green with black spots, and have an orange patch.

    Troides richmondia
    male,underside
    (Photo: courtesy of Geoff Sharp, Ballina, New South Wales)

    Underneath, they are green with black veins, spots, and margins. They have a wingspan of about 10 cms.

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

    The females are less colourful but larger. They are black with cream spots and patches, and have a wingspan of about 11 cms.

    Troides richmondia
    female, underside
    (Photo: courtesy of Todd Burrows, South Stradbroke Island, Queensland)

    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 richmondia
    egg, magnified
    (Photo: courtesy of Todd Burrows, South Stradbroke Island, Queensland)

    The female butterfly mistakenly is inclined to lay her eggs on or near:

  • Dutchman's Pipe ( Aristolochia elegans, ARISTOLOCHIACEAE ),

    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 euphorion and Troides priamus and Atrophaneura polydorus . There is now an important project in the conservation of these Australian butterfly species to try to eliminate occurrences of Aristolochia elegans in the bush along the east coast of Australia, and to encourage people to grow in their gardens Richmond Birdwing Vine (Pararistolochia praevenosa) or Tagala Vine (Aristolochia acuminata) instead.

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

    The butterflies were once common in

  • southern Queensland, and
  • New South Wales, in the hills inland from Byron Bay,
    but are now much less common.

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


    Further reading :

    Michael F. Braby,
    Butterflies of Australia,
    CSIRO Publishing, Melbourne 2000, vol. 1, pp. 281-283.

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

    Ross Kendall,
    A note on Richmond Birdwings and Aristolochia acuminata,
    Butterflies and Other Invertebrates Club,
    Newsletter Issue 45 (June 2007), pp. 7-8.

    Lois Hughes,
    Jacob's Well and Ormeau Excursions,
    Metamorphosis Australia,
    Issue 80 (March 2016), p. 36,
    Butterflies and Other Invertebrates Club.

    D.P.A. Sands, S.E. Scott and R. Moffatt,
    The threatened Richmond birdwing butterfly (Ornithoptera richmondia [Gray]): a community conservation project,
    Memoirs of the Museum of Victoria,
    Volume 56, Number 2 (1997), pp. 449-453.

    Garry Sankowsky,
    Aristolochia acuminata and the Richmond Birdwing,
    Metamorphosis Australia,
    Issue 73 (June 2014), pp. 11-14,
    Butterflies and Other Invertebrates Club.

    Hilton Selvey,
    Studies of the egg and larvae of the Richmond Birdwing butterfly Ornithoptera richmondia,
    Metamorphosis Australia,
    Issue 51 (December 2008), pp. 15-16,
    Butterfly and Other Invertebrates Club Inc..

    Hilton Selvey,
    Letter : Richmond Birdwing
    Metamorphosis Australia,
    Issue 52 (March 2009), pp. 29-30,
    Butterflies and Other Invertebrates Club.


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    (updated 24 May 2013, 14 February 2015)