Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing Butterfly: Identification, Life Cycle, and Behavior

The Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing is a remarkable species with unique features and behaviors.

This article sheds light on its diverse aspects such as classification, lifespan, diet, and notable mimicry behaviors.

You’ll also delve into its main threats, thereby understanding the looming risks endangering this beautiful species’ survival.

Alexandra's Birdwing Butterfly

What is the Classification of Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing Butterfly?

The Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing Butterfly is recognized under the classification scheme of binomial nomenclature.

Scientifically known as Ornithoptera alexandrae, it is part of the Arthropoda phylum. In particular, it lies within the order of Lepidoptera, known for its families of butterflies and moths.

Under the Lepidoptera order, the butterfly is classified within the Papilionidae family. This family is renowned for its large, colorful species.

Not just a mere member, it holds the reputation as the biggest member of the Papilionidae family.

Further into its classification, the Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing falls under the butterfly genus named Ornithoptera. Its genus is characterized by the presence of birdwing butterflies.

Here’s a quick breakdown of its scientific classification:

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Arthropoda
  • Class: Insecta
  • Order: Lepidoptera
  • Family: Papilionidae
  • Genus: Ornithoptera
  • Species: O. alexandrae

Its illustrious place within the biological classification system marks it as one of the most distinctive butterflies on Earth.

This royal name, ‘Queen Alexandra’s’, is a tribute to Alexandra of Denmark, queen consort to King Edward VII of the U.K. Each level of its classification highlights its uniqueness, and seamlessly ties into the factors that make its habits and lifecycle so fascinating.

What is the Distribution of Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing Butterfly?

The Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing Butterfly finds its habitat primarily situated in just one location on earth. Restricted to the lowland coastal forests of Papua New Guinea, particularly the Oro Province, it enjoys an incredibly niche existence.

This area, though seemingly minute on a global scale, provides the ideal ecological conditions for this butterfly species. The lush, tropical environments with specific host plants, make it a thriving habitat for the Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing.

Remember, this butterfly’s territorial specificity also means that it faces a precarious existence. Any harm to the landscapes of Papua New Guinea can potentially spell disaster for this elegant creature, making preservation of its habitat a critical aspect of ensuring the species’ survival.

What are the Main Characteristics of the Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing Butterfly?

The Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing Butterfly is renowned for its massive size and striking colors. As the world’s largest butterfly species, the female reaches an impressive wingspan of around 9.8 inches (25 cm), whereas the male wingspan measures about 6.7 inches (17 cm).

This butterfly species exhibits sexual dimorphism. Here, males and females vary distinctly. Males boast a vibrant green and blue pattern, whilst females wear a more muted color palette dominated by brown and cream, adorned with white triangles on the underside.

It’s important to note their unique wing shape, described as a bird-like silhouette. They flaunt elongated triangular forewings with rounded hindwings, giving them a remarkably characteristic flight pattern.

A standout feature is their strong, rapid, and sustained flight. Being highly powerful fliers, they are known to fly up to 19 feet (8 meters) above the ground.

Summarizing, Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing Butterfly is distinguished by its significant size, distinct male and female color patterns, unique wing shape and strong flying prowess. These attributes truly set this butterfly species apart in the insect world.

How to Identify Male and Female Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing Butterfly?

Identifying male and female Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing butterflies is quite a simple task, if you know what to look for. The male and female of this species differ significantly in terms of size, color, and wing patterns.

Male Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing is smaller, with a wingspan reaching up to 6.7 inches (about 17 centimeters).

Their wings display a vibrant iridescent green and blue coloration on their upper wings. In contrast, the underside of their wings are a pale yellow with white and dark markings.

On the other hand, the female Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing is much larger, boasting a wingspan of about 9.5 to 11 inches (24 to 28 centimeters).

Females flaunt brown wings with cream-colored markings along the edge of their wings. Females aren’t as brightly colored as the males. Instead, they have a more modest tone of brown, cream, and white.

While observing the wings, also take note of the body. Males have a slim, lean body with a smaller abdomen. Females, in contrast, possess a larger abdomen, indicative of their egg-laying ability.

In summary, by paying attention to the size, wing coloration, and shape of the body, it is quite easy to distinguish between male and female Queen Alexandra Birdwing butterflies.

What is the Mating Ritual of Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing Butterfly?

The mating ritual of the Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing is an intriguing process. It all begins when the male butterfly initiates the courting process.

Keep an eye on their vibrant display of colors. This expression of appeal is conducted through an impressive aerial display being showcased by the male.

Males circle the females and present them with a beautiful array of colors from their large, colorful wings.

This dance might go on for hours until the female accepts the male. It’s a courtship that is both aesthetically impressive and critical for the survival of the species.

Once the female accepts the male, they mate in mid-air. Here, the complexity of the Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing butterfly’s mating process shines through their unique mid-air copulation process.

Interestingly, the female carries the sperm of the male butterfly for several days before the fertilization of her eggs happens.

Mating in the Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing butterfly is a meticulous process. Boasting her vibrant colors, the male undertakes a showcase, and then mid-air copulation ensues.

In turn, she secures the future of their lineage, contributing to the beauty of our ecosystem for the next cycle. A gentle reminder of Mother Nature’s intricate design and thorough processes in preserving her species.

What Does the Caterpillar of Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing Butterfly Look Like?

The caterpillar of the Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing butterfly is truly a sight to behold. They are incredibly long, reaching up to 3.1 inches or 7.9 centimeters in length.

Bold in color, these larvae are mainly bright green with a blue hue on their dorsal side, making them aesthetically pleasing yet hard to spot amidst the lush tropical vegetation.

Look closer, and you will see blue tubercles or small rounded nodules spread over the body of the caterpillar. A pair of yellow bands loop around their middle, while the head is capped with an orange-red tip.

These vibrant markings and colors serve not only for camouflage but also as a warning signal to potential predators about their potential toxicity.

The caterpillar’s ‘humpbacked’ shape gives them a distinctive silhouette. Their body is ridged and segmented.

Textured to touch, they are covered in small, soft bristles. This fascinating creature is indeed a testament to the rich biodiversity of their native tropical rainforests.

One key aspect of the caterpillar’s lifestyle stands out: it feeds almost exclusively on the leaves of the Aristolochia schlecteri vine, a poisonous plant found only in their native Papua New Guinea.

This unique diet makes the caterpillar, and later the butterfly, toxic to potential predators, adding an extra layer of defense in their survival strategy. It’s a truly remarkable tale of adaptation, beautifully encapsulated in the life of the Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing’s caterpillar.

What is the Life Cycle of Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing Butterfly?

From the initial stage as an egg to a beautiful, vibrant adult, the Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing butterfly undergoes a fascinating process. It’s a journey filled with growth and transformation that happens in four main stages.

Stage One: The Egg Stage
Always on the look out for the perfect host plant, the female butterfly lays her eggs carefully. The pipeline vine serves as a favourite. After a period of about 11 days, the eggs hatch into caterpillars.

Stage Two: The Caterpillar Stage
Upon hatching, these larvae feed on the leaves of the parent plant. Eating becomes their primary activity for growth. Shedding their skin multiple times over weeks, they eventually enter a transition phase.

Stage Three: The Pupa Stage
Known as pupation, the caterpillar wraps itself into a cocoon-like shell. This is the chrysalis. During this stage, the transformation truly begins. The process lasts for about a month.

Stage Four: The Adult Butterfly Stage
Finally, the adult Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing butterfly emerges resplendently. It stretches out its wings and soon takes flight. In the wild, it may live up to 3 months.

Understanding the life cycle of the Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing butterfly, you grasp the marvel of nature’s transformations.

You recognize the struggle that each butterfly undergoes before attaining its stunning beauty.

What Is the Average Life Expectancy of a Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing Butterfly?

Knowing the lifespan of a species is essential for understanding its biology and ecology. The Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing Butterfly is no different. So, let’s dive in:

An adult Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing butterfly typically lives for around three months. For the largest butterfly species in the world, every second of this brief lifespan is filled with activity.

From feeding, flying, mating, and laying eggs, these butterflies keep busy.

Consider that their short life expectancy is the norm for butterflies in general. However, the Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing makes the most of its lifespan. It fully embraces its role in the ecosystems in which it lives.

It’s key to note that this butterfly spends most of its life as an immobile pupa or a larva. The transformation into a beautiful, colorful, and active adult butterfly takes up a mere fraction of its life.

This means that when you see a Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing fluttering about, you’re witnessing a life lived to the fullest.

In summary, the average lifespan clocks in at three months, but this belies a rich, vibrant life. Indeed, the Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing uses every moment of its brief maturity to contribute to its community before eventually passing on, completing the cycle of life.

What Does the Diet of a Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing Butterfly Consist Of?

Caterpillars’ diets are often simple. For Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing, they feed exclusively on the leaves of the Pipevine plant, a native vine in their habitat. High in nutrients, this plant supplies all their dietary needs during the larval stage.

When the caterpillar evolves into a butterfly, its dietary habits change. Moving into their adult phase, this species has been observed to utilize the nutrient-rich nectar from numerous tropical flowers found in their environment. Their long, curled proboscis is designed for deep flowers, allowing them to reach nectar others can’t.

Interestingly, they don’t limit themselves to flowers only. In a practice named ‘puddling’, these butterflies frequently land on damp patches of soil or puddles.

By doing this, they’re able to ingest necessary minerals and salts not found in nectar. This muddy solution provides key nutrients for both their survival and reproduction.

Take a look at this clear summary of their dietary intake:

  • Caterpillar: Pipevine plant leaves
  • Adult (nectar): Assorted tropical flowers
  • Adult (puddling): Damp soil or puddles

From birth until death, Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing butterflies adapt to their surroundings by exploiting available resources.

Their eating habits show a splendid example of nature’s resourcefulness. Their diet is a beautiful balance of plant and mineral nutrition, enabling an optimal lifecycle, and contributing to their survival as a species.

Which Plants Serve as the Primary Hosts for Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing Butterfly?

Do you want to know which plants play a significant role in the life of the Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing butterfly? Well, it’s quite exclusive in its tastes.

The primary host plants for these butterflies are those from the genus Aristolochia. But it’s not just any Aristolochia plant. Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing butterfly prefers Aristolochia schlecteri, a vine native to the rainforests of Papua New Guinea.

This exclusive diet begins when the butterfly is still in its caterpillar stage. As caterpillars, they eat the leaves of the Aristolochia plant. This relationship is crucial as these leaves provide the larvae with a unique toxin that they retain into their adult life making them unattractive to predators. Talk about carrying childhood habits into adulthood!

The Aristolochia schlecteri vine also provides the perfect platform for the butterfly to lay its eggs. Once hatched, the vine becomes the caterpillar’s immediate food source.

It’s a fascinating life cycle revolving around a single type of plant.

But why this exclusive relationship with the Aristolochia plant, you may ask. The answer lies in evolution! Over time, these butterflies have developed a specific adaptation making them dependent on this plant.

So essentially, the survival of the Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing butterfly significantly hinges on the presence of the Aristolochia plants.

So, if you’re ever lucky enough to spot a Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing butterfly, look around, an Aristolochia schlecteri vine may not be too far away.

This is an intricate example of nature’s delicate balance between species, isn’t it?

What are the Unique Mimicry Behaviors in Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing Butterfly?

In the animal kingdom, it’s not uncommon to find creatures with unique adaptation mechanisms. One such fascinating creature is the Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing Butterfly, known for its distinguished mimicry behaviors.

Particularly noteworthy is its use of Batesian mimicry—a strategic form of deception where a harmless species, in this case, the Birdwing butterfly, imitates the warning signals of a harmful species to deter predators.

The Birdwing butterfly mimics the patterns and behavior of more dangerous insects, effectively tricking predators into thinking it is harmful.

This, along with its vibrant color palette, serves as the butterfly’s shield, its protection from the prying eyes and hungry mouths of predators.

The mimicry, however, goes beyond physical appearance. The Birdwing butterfly often imitates the flight patterns of wasps and other insects, increasing its chances of survival.

Nevertheless, the effectiveness of this mimicry is often dependent on the population ratio of the mimicking and the dangerous species.

If the population of dangerous species dwindles, then predators may stop associating the warning signals with danger, reducing the safety the Birdwing butterfly experiences through mimicry.

As Batesian mimicry is quite a rare behavior in butterflies, it’s even more reason to find the Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing Butterfly a fascinating part of our natural world.

What Are the Main Threats to Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing Butterfly Populations?

Despite its majestic nature, the Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing butterfly faces significant threats that stand in the way of its survival.

The primary risk to its continued existence is habitat loss. Commercial logging and palm oil plantations have relentlessly encroached on its native forest habitat in Papua New Guinea, severely limiting its breeding and foraging grounds.

  • The zoo trade also poses a substantial threat. Some people illicitly collect these butterflies due to their size and rarity, further dwindling their numbers.
  • Climate change, with its unpredictable weather patterns and rising temperatures, also poses an existential threat. It disrupts the delicate balance required for these butterflies to breed, find food, and survive in their natural habitat.
  • Furthermore, the use of pesticides in agriculture contaminates the soil and plant life, affecting the survival of the nymphs.

To combat these threats, there are conservation measures implemented, such as restricted trading under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

Wild population monitoring, habitat protection and restoration, and banning the use of harmful pesticides are among these initiatives.

Regrettably, the effects of climate change and habitat loss are difficult to combat. Therefore, the fate of the Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing butterfly hangs in the balance, requiring comprehensive international conservation efforts to ensure its survival.


In sum, Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing Butterfly is a unique creature that is distinctively large, vividly colored, and incredibly fascinating.

Getting acquainted with its characteristics, behaviors, and life cycle enriches our appreciation for Mother Nature’s intricate wonders.

Please feel free to share your thoughts and experiences by leaving a comment below.

Butterflies   Updated: September 12, 2023
avatar Welcome to Insectic, a blog to learn about insects and bugs. I'm Richard, and I've created this website to share my experience, knowledge, and passion with others.

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