Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing Butterfly Facts For Kids: Pictures, Information & Video

This page contains amazing Queen Alexandra's Birdwing butterfly facts for kids (and adults).

Queen Alexandra's Birdwing Butterfly Facts At A Glance

  • Scientific name: Ornithoptera alexandrae
  • Type of Animal: Insect
  • Animal Family: Papilionidae (swallowtail butterfly family)
  • Where Found: Forests in the Oro Province of Papua New Guinea
  • Wingspan: (Females) up to 28 cm (11 in.), males up to 20 cm (9 in.)
  • Weight: 12 g (0.42 oz.),
  • Conservation Status: Endangered
  • Other interesting Queen Alexandra’s birdwing butterfly facts: The female is bigger than the male, but the male has brighter colors.

Queen Alexandra’s birdwing butterfly Video

Watch the (very short) video below to see the Queen Alexandra’s birdwing butterfly in the wild:

Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing Butterfly Facts: Introduction

The Queen Alexandra’s birdwing is famous for being the largest butterfly in the world (we’ll find out just how big it is below). It is found in the tropical rainforests of Papua New Guinea.

The Queen Alexandra’s birdwing was discovered by English naturalist and wildlife collector Albert Stewart Meek in 1906. Working for a rich collector, Meek collected the first specimen by shooting it. It says much about the butterfly’s size that there was anything left to collect!

The butterfly was later named after Edward VII’s wife, Alexandra of Denmark. (Edward VII was King of England at the time of the butterfly’s discovery).

What Does The Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing Butterfly Look Like?

  • Male Queen Alexandra’s birdwings are smaller than the females, but have much brighter colors. Their wings are a shimmering emerald green-blue color, with black stripes and veins.
  • Female Queen Alexandra’s birdwings are larger than the males. Their wings are brown, and marked with rows of white spots and triangles.

(When the male and female of the same species are markedly different to one another, the species is said to be ‘sexually dimorphic’.)

You can see the difference in size and appearance between the male and female in the picture below:

Ornithoptera alexandrae

The Queen Alexandra’s birdwing is in the swallowtail family of butterflies, Papilionidae. There are several other species of birdwing butterfly; all are large with brightly-colored males.

Birdwing butterflies get their name from their large, birdlike wings and flying motion.

How Big Is The Largest Butterfly In The World?

The female Queen Alexandra’s birdwing’s wingspan can reach an incredible 28 cm (11 in.), whereas the male’s reaches up to 20 cm (9 in.). Check on a ruler to see how large that is!

Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing Facts: Habitat

The Queen Alexandra’s birdwing lives in a small area of lowland tropical rainforest in the Oro Province, south east Papua New Guinea.

The area in which the butterfly is found may be as small as 1,200 sq. km / 463 sq. mi.

The Oro Province in which the Queen Alexandra’s birdwing is found is shown in the map below. You can zoom out to see where the island of New Guinea is:

(New Guinea is a large island to the north of Australia. The western half of New Guinea is owned by Indonesia, the eastern half by Papua New Guinea).

Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing Diet

The Queen Alexandra’s birdwing uses its long proboscis to feed from flowers. The Queen Alexandra’s birdwing is very selective in its choice of food. It will only eat from 2 or 3 species of the tough-leaved and woody Aristolochia vines.

Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing Facts: Life Cycle

Like all butterflies, the Queen Alexandra’s birdwing has a four-stage life cycle (the scientific names for each stage are shown in parentheses).

The males are highly territorial, and will see off any other males who venture into their territory. A male will hover over a female, and shower her with pheromones (special chemicals). If she is receptive to his advances they will mate.

Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing Egg (Ovum)

The female Queen Alexandra’s birdwing lays a single large, round, yellow egg. It is fixed onto the underside of a leaf with an orange adhesive substance.

The Queen Alexandra’s birdwing’s eggs are laid on the same species of vine on which the butterfly feeds.

Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing Caterpillar (Larva)

The eggs hatch after 11 to 13 days. The Queen Alexandra’s birdwing caterpillar is large and black, with rows of red spikes running along its back. A yellow band runs across its back.

The vines on which the caterpillar feeds are poisonous to vertebrates. The caterpillar isn’t affected by the poison, and retains it in its own body. This makes it poisonous to other animals.

The caterpillar’s bright colors serve as warning coloration – potential predators will see the bright colors and stay away from the caterpillar.

The caterpillar molts (sheds its skin) 6 times as it grows.

Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing Chrysalis (Pupa)

After its sixth molt, the Queen Alexandra’s birdwing caterpillar is finally ready to pupate. It attaches itself to a leaf or stem and forms a pale brown chrysalis.

Adult Butterfly (Imago)

The Queen Alexandra's birdwing emerges in its adult form (imago) after around six weeks. It lives as an adult for around 3 months or more.

Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing Predators

This large butterfly doesn’t have many natural predators, although it may be predated by some varieties of spider and birds.

Is The Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing Endangered?

The Queen Alexandra’s birdwing’s conservation status on the IUCN Red List is ‘Endangered’. This is due mainly to habitat loss. More and more of the rainforest in which it lives is being deforested and being turned into oil palm plantations.

Because the Queen Alexandra’s birdwing’s range is so small, it is easily affected by local disturbances; in the 1950’s a large part of its natural habitat was destroyed by a volcano.

Other Birdwing Butterflies

Other birdwing butterflies are also known for their size: the Goliath birdwing is the second-largest butterfly in the world, and the Cairns birdwing is the largest found in Australia.

Cairns Birdwing Butterfly
The Cairns Birdwing Butterfly is the largest butterfly in Australia.

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3 thoughts on “Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing Butterfly Facts For Kids: Pictures, Information & Video”

    • Hi Natalie,

      Thank you for your comment, that’s a great question!

      We had a look around for an answer specific to the Queen Alexandra’s birdwing, but were unable to find this information. Therefore, we’ll give you a general answer, in the hope that it will help.

      Those differences in color (and size) didn’t just happen by accident; they’re there for a reason!

      Over time it has been beneficial for the Queen Alexandra’s birdwing butterfly species for the females to be brown, and for the males to be more brightly-colored. (Otherwise there would be no difference in color between males and females.)

      Why is this?

      Here are a few possible answers…

      The most likely explanation is that the female Queen Alexandra’s birdwing instinctively prefers brightly-colored males. This may be because having bright colors indicates that a male is fit and healthy. This would make him a better choice of mate than a darker-colored male.
      The females have evolved a preference for brightly-colored males, and in response males have evolved to be ever more brightly colored.

      Another potential explanation is that it is better for the males to be brightly colored because they are territorial. If it is easy for a visiting male to see that a territory is already occupied, then there may be less chance of a fight. (A fight would potentially be harmful for both insects, and would also use up valuable energy). The males could ‘compare colors’ instead of actually fighting.

      The male’s smaller size may also be beneficial if it has to defend a territory, as it would use less energy flying around.
      It might benefit a female, who doesn’t have a territory to defend, to be less conspicuous and more camouflaged.

      The female’s large size may mean that it is better protected against predators. (Even if a bird takes a bite out of one of its wings, it may still be able to fly.)

      These are just a few possible explanations of why there are differences in color (and size) between male and female Queen Alexandra’s birdwing butterflies.
      The real reason may be a combination of some or all of these – or it may be something completely different.

      If there are any experts on the insects of Papua New Guinea reading this then please feel free to shed some light on this!

      Thank you again for an interesting question. 🙂


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