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.
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.
Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing
Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing is the largest butterfly in the world with the females having a wingspan up to 11 1/2 inches or 280mm. It was first collected in 1906. It is named for the wife of the then British King Edward V11. Queen Alexandra was born Princess Alexandra of Denmark in 1844. She died 1925.
This butterfly lives in the canopy of the lowland rainforests and of secondary growth areas rich in aristolacia vines. It is found in a few very small areas in southeast Papua New Guinea.
The wings are iridescent blue and green and black and this very beautiful butterfly is highly prized by collectors. The wing shapes are unique and distinctive. The butterflies live for 3 months.
It is said that the survival of this species is dependant on 9 remaining 10 sq. km areas of habitat.
Ornithoptera alexandrae is classified as endangered in the ‘Red Data Book of Threatened Swallowtail Butterflies of the World’.
|O. alexandrae Male & Female|
Acrylic on birch ply & elm
h 24” w 25.5”
61cm x 65cm