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
For nearly a hundred years this was a controversial and
enigmatic butterfly. Was it a distinct but very rare species or was it
an accidental hybrid? Opinion was divided until 1986 when Ray Strattman
put Victorae females with Priamus euptora males. They mated and produced
perfect Allotti hybrids.