The World's Largest Butterfly

The Queen Alexandra's Birdwing is the largest species of which kind of animal?

And the answer: butterfly.    

Photo credit: Angelus Palik. 

Native to the forests of eastern Papua New Guinea, the Queen Alexandra's Birdwing is the largest butterfly in the world. Their wingspans can reach almost a foot across.

First discovered in 1906, the Queen Alexandra's Birdwing was named in honor of Britain’s queen, Alexandra of Denmark. The naturalist who discovered it, Albert Stewart Meek, immediately recognized that he had found something new: its wingspan was massive, almost reaching a full foot, and its colors were striking. He found that male butterflies were slightly smaller than the females, but much brighter in color— with blue and green markings and a yellow abdomen.

Queen Alexandra's Birdwings have very unique mating rituals. When males hover over females and release pheromones, they will not be accepted unless the male has flown and swarmed over the forest trees known as Intsia bijuga, or “Kwila,” when they are in bloom. Fascinatingly, no one is quite sure why this is.

These fascinating butterflies live only in the forests in and around Papua New Guinea. To date, scientists still do not know how many Queen Alexandra's Birdwings there are in the wild, with little data collected since the '90s. What scientists do know, however, is that this species prefers rainforests or remote plateaus for the amount of light they provide. It is thought that the Queen Alexandra's Birdwing was prevalent throughout many more ecosystems in the past, but today exists only in remote rainforests or plateaus.

Learn more about Queen Alexandra's Birdwing here.

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