Ornithoptera Series


About the Butterflies

In my paintings, I use the Birdwing butterflies as a symbol of the many animal and plant species that are disappearing as a result of habitat destruction and other human interventions.

There are 11 species of Birdwing butterflies of the genera Ornithoptera and they are restricted to the New Guinea area. All are rare and some of the subspecies with very restricted distribution, on small islands for example, are extremely vulnerable.
These butterflies are among the largest in the world, the female O. Alexandra having a wingspan of 11 inches.

The birdwings are all believed to breed on the Aristolochia vines on which they are dependant for their survival.

Some of the most rare genera of birdwings sell for over $ 1000 a pair. Some Island colonies have been completely extirpated by unscrupulous collectors paying the islanders a few cents to gather the butterflies. These are then sold for high prices to other collectors. The main threat to these insects, though, is habitat destruction through logging by governments, companies and local people. Of course, Birdwing butterflies are just a few of the thousands of animal and plant species that are threatened with extinction as a result of the felling of the forests.

I try to render the butterflies in full scale and as accurately as possible.

Onithoptera Priamus

Priam’s Birdwing

This is the most widespread of the birdwings having 14 identified subspecies, which range through many different habitats. They are found in New Guinea, the islands East to the Solomons and northeast Queensland. The subspecies tend to be localized and are usually named for the island or area in which they are found. They vary in size but are nearly all green to blue green with a black bar across the forewing. Priamus Celestei is turquoise blue, but the Priamus Urvillianus from New Britain and the Solomon Islands is uniquely dark blue and black.

Priamus was fist described in 1717 although no examples were captured until 1758.

It is named after Priam, King of Troy and father of Hector, Paris and Cassandra.

The subspecies vary considerably in size:

  • The males have wingspans from 8cm up to 17 cm.
  • The females have wingspans from 11 cm up to 20 cm.

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

O. priamus Male & Female
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Acrylic on birch ply & poplar

h 24” w 25.5”
61cm x 65cm