It’s my first post of the New Year! How exciting. We’ll start 2014 off with a post about a beautiful butterfly, and hope the new year is as lovely and symmetrical as this animal’s wings. It seems strange to me, but I haven’t blogged about a butterfly yet. Who doesn’t like butterflies? Actually I have a friend that hates them, but she isn’t writing this blog. So butterflies it is!

Queen Alexandra’s birdwing has the distinction of being the largest butterfly in the world. Females are bigger than males, with a wingspan of 31 cm, and a body length of 8cm. Can you imagine a foot-long butterfly flapping around your head? I think I’d be pretty afraid. Males only reach the pathetic size of 20 cm, but make up for it by being brightly coloured and prettier than the females.

A male and female birdwing side-by-side for comparison. The male is on the left.
A male and female birdwing side-by-side for comparison. The male is on the left.

The birdwing lives in, Papua New Guinea, and resides in the tropical forests there. They usually stay in the canopy, only going into the lower forest to feed or lay eggs. Like most butterflies, they feed on flower nectar, and I can only imagine that the rainforests must have a ton of crazy flowers to support a butterfly like this one. After all, the flowers have to be able to support the massive weight of the butterfly.

A caterpillar of the Queen Alexandra's birdwing. Pretty scary looking, isn't it?
A caterpillar of the Queen Alexandra’s birdwing. Pretty scary looking, isn’t it?

Male Queen Alexandra’s birdwings are very territorial, and will stake out a prime flower patch to wait for females to flutter by. When they do, he will spray her with a pheromone that makes her want to mate. Once mating has occurred, females lay their eggs on pipe vines, where the larvae can feed. The larvae eat their own egg shell before consuming the foliage of the vine, and then these vicious creatures ringbark the host plant, a process which kill the vine. Once they’ve killed the poor fine, the larvae turn into a pupae, and after about a month emerge as a beautiful butterfly. They come out of the cocoon in the early morning, to prevent their wings from drying out before they have fully expanded. I imagine having partially crumpled wings wouldn’t be super helpful for survival.

Well, there you have it. The first post of 2014. Let’s hope all the others of the year are as damned fine as this one was. Happy New Year!

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