In the Beginning

He Saw it was Good: Ornithoptera victoriae
& 0. rothschildi & O. aesacus

 

What Can Be Done?

Destruction of the natural forest is the main threat. The indigenous peoples living in the forests where rare species are found naturally desire money to improve their health, education and other prospects. They are encouraged to clear the land through logging for tropical hardwoods or for planting banana, palm and other cash crops thus destroying the vines on which the birdwings depend.

How can such insects be protected?

Ironically, one solution maybe for the indigenous people to be encouraged to farm these insects by planting their food plants, harvesting a few specimens and selling them for high prices. The breeders and collectors of the insects (the local people) should receive a good price instead of the
middlemen. This should encourage habitat preservation, the survival of the local wildlife species and give the indigenous people an income.

Barry Cogswell

Ornithoptera Victorae

Queen Victoria’s Birdwing

These butterflies are restricted to the Solomon Islands where there are seven subspecies most of which are named after the specific island on which they are found. The males have oval shaped wings with the rear wings being very elongated and wrinkled. The most similar species is the Queen Alexandria’s Birdwing.

They fly high in the canopy, and in 1885 when a naturalist with a Royal Navy expedition was keen to capture one, a Royal Marine shot one down with a shotgun. That very butterfly is still part of the collection in the Natural History Museum, London.

  • The males have a wingspan of up to 16 cm.
  • The females have a wingspan of up to 20 cm.

It is classified as indeterminate in the ‘Red Data Book of Threatened Swallowtail Butterflies of the World’

Ornithoptera Rothschildi

Rothschild’s Birdwing

Lord Lionel Walter Rothschild financed many of the late Victorian scientific expeditions to the Australasia region and this butterfly was named by its discoverer, Alfred Stewart Meek, for his benefactor.

Rothschild’s Birdwing has the smallest distribution of any birdwing butterfly and is found in northeastern Iran Jaya in sunny, wind sheltered, ravines above the 2000 meter level.

  • The males have a wingspan of up to 13 cm.
  • The females have a wingspan of up to 15.5 cm.

It is classified as indeterminate in the ‘Red Data Book of Threatened Swallowtail Butterflies of the World’.

Ornithoptera Aesacus

This is one of the least known of the Birdwings. It is found only on Obi Island, in the Indonesian Moluccas. Obi has been closed to outside travel for a great many years and few examples are in collections. Little is known of the numbers of this butterfly but it is assumed that the Aesacus is fairly secure, as no logging has been allowed on the island.
Robert Graves says that Aesacus was a son of Arisbe, the first wife of Priam, King of Troy. When Aesacus great love Asterope, the daughter of a river, died he tried repeatedly to kill himself by jumping into the sea from a high cliff. Finally the Gods took pity on him and turned him into a diving bird “thus allowing him to indulge his passion with greater decency”.

  • The males have a wingspan up to 14 cm.
  • The females have a wingspan up to 19 cm.

It is classified as indeterminate in the ‘Red Data Book of Threatened Swallowtail Butterflies of the World’.

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1997
Acrylic on birch ply & saw-chain
H 48” w 46” 122cm x 117cm