Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Cairns Birdwing Butterfly

The Cairns Birdwing Butterfly is Australia's largest butterfly.

The wingspan of the female can measure 180mm. The smaller male butterfly has green wings with black markings, while the female has black wings with yellow and white markings. The abdomen of both the male and the female is yellow and the thorax is red.

The caterpillar or ‘larva’, is black and features short spines along the upper surface of the thorax and abdomen. The spines are red or pink in the intermediate sections. The head of the larva has a white mark. A full-grown caterpillar may have a purple tinge in its colouring and can grow to a length of 90mm.The pupa or ‘chrysalis’, is typically grey-yellow or golden.

The Cairns Birdwing Butterfly is one of 14 subspecies of Birdwing. Birdwing Butterflies are found in north-east Australia, the Moluccas Islands, New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. New Guinea is home to the largest known butterfly on Earth, the Queen Alexandra's Birdwing (Troides alexandrae) whose wingspan can reach 280 mm.

After mating the female Cairns Birdwing seeks a suitable plant on which to lay her eggs. Hatching may occur within 5 -10 days, depending on the temperature. As the caterpillar grows it passes through a series of moults in which the outer skin or ‘cuticula’, is shed. Before commencing the final moult (usually the fifth) the caterpillar uses saliva to form a silk pad on the underside of a branch, and a 'girdle' that supports its head as it hangs below the branch. The lower portion of the abdomen is fixed to the silk pad by a network of tiny hooks called the 'cremaster'. The final moult commences the pupal stage.The butterfly emerges from the chrysalis approximately one month after pupation has commenced, although this period is quite variable.The adult Cairns Birdwing Butterfly lives for 4-5 weeks, during which mating may occur. The coupling of the male and female can last for up to 36 hours.
Habitat and distribution.

The destruction of tropical rain forest has led to a decline in the population of the Cairns Birdwing Butterfly and it is now a protected species.

Click here to listen to the interview with Norman Dowsett of Melbourne Zoo about ht eBirdwing Butterfly as well as how to attract more butterflies to your garden.

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