ORNITHOPTERA SERIES

“Superficially the paintings describe the rare Birdwing, or Ornithoptera, butterflies of tropical New Guinea. but, as most of them fly above the treetops, I am really concerned to paint the canopy of the forest on which they depend. For me the leaf structures, patterning, colour and surface quality are of the greatest importance.”

For the past thirty years I have been interested in plant structures and growth patterns and recently spent a fair bit of time studying and photographing tropical plants and leaves in Borneo and Malaysia. I have occasionally painted from photographs but I prefer to design imagined leaf structures knowing that somewhere in the jungle canopy there is probably a tree that looks like my invention. I have only once tried to paint the Aristolocia vines on which the ornithoptera caterpillars feed.

I paint with acrylic on 1/8 inch birch ply. With some works I include pieces of local wood, with others pieces of recycled tropical hardwoods. My intention is to ask,“ When, under what circumstances, and for what purposes should tropical and temperate woods be used?”

At present I am completing 4 different series each depicting the 11 recognized species, and some subspecies, of Ornithoptera Butterflies.

URVILLIANUS MALE & FEMALE
Ornithoptera Urvillianus (Priamus Urvillianus)
D’Urville’s Birdwing

2006
Acrylic on birch ply & elm
h 24″ w 25.5″
61 cm x 65 cm

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These butterflies are found on New Ireland and the Solomon Islands. In the recent past D’urville’s Birdwing, with the dark blue male, was considered a distinct species. However it has now been proved to be a subspecies of Priamus by cross breeding with a second sub species and producing fertile offspring.

Urvillianus was first named by J. Dumont d’Urville who collected a specimen early in the Nineteenth century. It is a large butterfly but is apparently being farmed in the Solomons and is therefore not considered threatened.

The Priamus Caelestis is another priamus subspecies with a colouration toward the blue, although the males are more of a pale turquoise. I suppose the English name of that butterfly would be ‘Heavenly Birdwing’.

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

PRIAMUS MALE & FEMALE 2
Onithoptera Priamus
Priam’s Birdwing

2005
Acrylic on birch ply & poplar
h 24″ w 25.5″
61 cm x 65 cm

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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’

ROTHSCHILDI MALE & FEMALE
Ornithoptera Rothschildi
Rothschild’s Birdwing

2005
Acrylic on birch ply & elm
h 24″ w 25.5″
61 cm x 65 cm

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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 CHIMAERA 2
Ornithoptera Chimaera
Chimaera Birdwing

2004
Acrylic on birch ply & cocobola
h 16″ x w 27.5″
40 cm x 69.5 cm

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  • This butterfly flies in damp and cool gorges in the highland rainforests of northeastern Papua New Guinea and a few small locations in Irian Jaya.
  • It frequents the rainforest canopy and breeds on the Aristolochia Vine.
  • The male forewings are iridescent gold and green and very beautiful.
  • It was first identified in 1903.

The markings are very similar to the Ornithoptera species Paradisea, Tithonus and to a lesser extent Rothschildi except that the wing shapes in each are very different. Some ornithologists refer to these four species as ‘Schonbergia’ as distinct from Ornithoptera. In ‘The Greek Myths’ Robert Graves describes the Chimaera as “a fire-breathing she-monster with a lion’s head, goat’s body, and serpent’s tail”.

Webster’s also says ‘it pertains to an impossible or foolish fancy’. Possibly this species was seen only fleetingly. There are 2 subspecies.

  • The males have a wingspan of up to 16 cm.
  • The females have a wingspan of up to 19 cm.

Ornithoptera chimaera is classified as Indeterminate in the ‘Red Data Book of Threatened Swallowtail Butterflies of the World’.

O. ALLOTTI MALE & FEMALE
Ornithoptera Alloti
Allotti Birdwing

2003
Acrylic on birch ply & cherry
h 24” w 25.5”
61cm x 65cm

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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.

O. CHIMAERA MALE & FEMALE
Ornithoptera Chimaera
Chimaera Birdwing

2003
Acrylic on birch ply & cherry
h 24” w 25.5”
61cm x 65cm

READ MORE
  • This butterfly flies in damp and cool gorges in the highland rainforests of northeastern Papua New Guinea and a few small locations in Irian Jaya.
  • It frequents the rainforest canopy and breeds on the Aristolochia Vine.
  • The male forewings are iridescent gold and green and very beautiful.
  • It was first identified in 1903.

The markings are very similar to the Ornithoptera species Paradisea, Tithonus and to a lesser extent Rothschildi except that the wing shapes in each are very different. Some ornithologists refer to these four species as ‘Schonbergia’ as distinct from Ornithoptera. In ‘The Greek Myths’ Robert Graves describes the Chimaera as “a fire-breathing she-monster with a lion’s head, goat’s body, and serpent’s tail”.

Webster’s also says ‘it pertains to an impossible or foolish fancy’. Possibly this species was seen only fleetingly. There are 2 subspecies.

  • The males have a wingspan of up to 16 cm.
  • The females have a wingspan of up to 19 cm.

Ornithoptera chimaera is classified as Indeterminate in the ‘Red Data Book of Threatened Swallowtail Butterflies of the World’

O. ALEXANDRAE MALE & FEMALE
Ornithoptera Alexandrae
Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing

2003
Acrylic on birch ply & elm
h 24” w 25.5”
61cm x 65cm

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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.

  • The caterpillars grow to 11 x 3 cm.
  • The males have a wingspan of up to 19 cm.
  • The females have a wingspan of up to 24 cm.

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. GOLIATH MALE & FEMALE
Ornithoptera Goliath
Goliath Birdwing

2003
Acrylic on birch ply & cherry
h 24” w 25.5”
61cm x 65cm

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This is thought to be the second largest butterfly after the Queen Alexandria’s Birdwing. It is found mostly in Papua New Guinea though some sub species are found in northern Irian Jaya and adjacent Islands. It lives in both primary and secondary forest from the lowlands to the highlands. As with all birdwings it breeds on the aristolachia vine, the poisons of which are passed on to the adults or imagos.

  • It was first described in 1888.
  • There are considered to be 8 subspecies.
  • The males have a wingspan of up to 20 cm.
  • The females have a wingspan of up to 22 cm.

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

ORNITHOPTERA MERIDIONALIS
Ornithoptera Meridionalis

2003
Acrylic on birch ply & cherry
h 16” w 27.5”
40cm x 69.5cm

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The Meridonalis is considered the smallest of the Birdwing butterflies and the male is described as “a very weak flyer, which flutters from tree to tree”. It is therefore fortunate that the caterpillar feeds on the poisonous Aristolachia vine, which in turn makes the butterfly poisonous to would be predators.

The females lay 5-7 eggs on the vines in the canopy so they have to fly down to a lower level to meet up with the males. They are found in the southeast lowlands of Papua New Guinea, but have also been reported in a location in western Irian Jaya.

The name ‘Meridionalis’ is taken from the southern location of this species. The rather similar O. paradisea is found to the north across a high mountain range.

  • The males have a wingspan of up to 11.6 cm.
  • The females have a wingspan of up to 14.5 cm.

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

ORNITHOPTERA ROTHSCHILDI
Ornithoptera Rothschildi
Rothschild’s Birdwing

2003
Acrylic on birch ply & cherry
h 16” w 27.5”
40cm x 69.5cm

READ MORE

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 CHIMAERA
Ornithoptera Chimaera
Chimaera Birdwing

2003
Acrylic on birch ply & elm
h 16” w 27.5”
40cm x 69.5cm

READ MORE
  • This butterfly flies in damp and cool gorges in the highland rainforests of northeastern Papua New Guinea and a few small locations in Irian Jaya.
  • It frequents the rainforest canopy and breeds on the Aristolochia Vine.
  • The male forewings are iridescent gold and green and very beautiful.
  • It was first identified in 1903.

The markings are very similar to the Ornithoptera species Paradisea, Tithonus and to a lesser extent Rothschildi except that the wing shapes in each are very different. Some ornithologists refer to these four species as ‘Schonbergia’ as distinct from Ornithoptera.

In ‘The Greek Myths’ Robert Graves describes the Chimaera as “a fire-breathing she-monster with a lion’s head, goat’s body, and serpent’s tail”. Webster’s also says ‘it pertains to an impossible or foolish fancy’. Possibly this species was seen only fleetingly. There are 2 subspecies.

  • The males have a wingspan of up to 16 cm.
  • The females have a wingspan of up to 19 cm.

Ornithoptera chimaera is classified as Indeterminate in the ‘Red Data Book of Threatened Swallowtail Butterflies of the World’.

ORNITHOPTERA CROESUS LYDIUS
Ornithoptera Croesus

2003
Acrylic on birch ply & fir
h 16” w 27.5”
40cm x 69.5cm

READ MORE

The male of this butterfly is unique of the ornithoptera butterflies being mostly brown and a burnt orange, which appears iridescent green from certain views.

Alfred Russell Wallace first observed it in 1859 and it took him three months before he finally collected a specimen. He discovered that they are attracted to the yellow flowering shrub ‘Mussaenda’, so stood guard with his net till a male came along. He named it after the fabulously rich Lydian King Croesus, of the sixth century B.C.

  • There are considered to be 5 subspecies.
  • The males have a wingspan of up to 15 cm.
  • The females have a wingspan of up to 22 cm.

These butterflies frequent lowland swamps on various islands in the Moluccas. It is classified as Vulnerable in the ‘Red Data Book of Threatened Swallowtail Butterflies of the World’.

ORNITHOPTERA ALEXANDRAE
Ornithoptera Alexandrae
Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing

2003
Acrylic on birch ply & maple
h 16” w 27.5”
40cm x 69.5cm

READ MORE

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.

  • The caterpillars grow to 11 x 3 cm.
  • The males have a wingspan of up to 19 cm.
  • The females have a wingspan of up to 24 cm.

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’.

ORNITHOPTERA GOLIATH 2
Ornithoptera Goliath
Goliath Birdwing

2003
Acrylic on birch ply & cherry
h 16” w 27.5”
40cm x 69.5cm

READ MORE

This is thought to be the second largest butterfly after the Queen Alexandria’s Birdwing. It is found mostly in Papua New Guinea though some sub species are found in northern Irian Jaya and adjacent Islands. It lives in both primary and secondary forest from the lowlands to the highlands. As with all birdwings it breeds on the aristolachia vine, the poisons of which are passed on to the adults or imagos.

  • It was first described in 1888.
  • There are considered to be 8 subspecies.
  • The males have a wingspan of up to 20 cm.
  • The females have a wingspan of up to 22 cm.

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

ORNITHOPTERA PRIAMUS
Onithoptera Priamus
Priam’s Birdwing

2003
Acrylic on birch ply & poplar
h 16” w 27.5”
40cm x 69.5cm

READ MORE

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. CROESUS MALE & FEMALE
Ornithoptera Croesus

2002
Acrylic on birch ply & fir
h 24” w 25.5”
61cm x 65cm

READ MORE

The male of this butterfly is unique of the ornithoptera butterflies being mostly brown and a burnt orange, which appears iridescent green from certain views.

Alfred Russell Wallace first observed it in 1859 and it took him three months before he finally collected a specimen. He discovered that they are attracted to the yellow flowering shrub ‘Mussaenda’, so stood guard with his net till a male came along. He named it after the fabulously rich Lydian King Croesus, of the sixth century B.C.

  • There are considered to be 5 subspecies
  • The males have a wingspan of up to 15 cm.
  • The females have a wingspan of up to 22 cm.

These butterflies frequent lowland swamps on various islands in the Moluccas. It is classified as Vulnerable in the ‘Red Data Book of Threatened Swallowtail Butterflies of the World’.

O. PRIAMUS MALE & FEMALE
Onithoptera Priamus
Priam’s Birdwing

2002
Acrylic on birch ply & poplar
h 24” w 25.5”
61cm x 65cm

READ MORE

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. AESACUS MALE & FEMALE
Ornithoptera Aesacus

2002
Acrylic on birch ply & poplar
h 24” w 25.5”
61cm x 65cm

READ MORE

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’.

ORNITHOPTERA URVILLIANUS
Ornithoptera Urvillianus (Priamus Urvillianus)
D’Urville’s Birdwing

2001
Acrylic on birch ply & paduak
h 16” w 27.5”
40cm x 69.5cm

READ MORE

These butterflies are found on New Ireland and the Solomon Islands. In the recent past D’urville’s Birdwing, with the dark blue male, was considered a distinct species. However it has now been proved to be a subspecies of Priamus by cross breeding with a second sub species and producing fertile offspring.

Urvillianus was first named by J. Dumont d’Urville who collected a specimen early in the Nineteenth century. It is a large butterfly but is apparently being farmed in the Solomons and is therefore not considered threatened.

The Priamus Caelestis is another priamus subspecies with a colouration toward the blue, although the males are more of a pale turquoise. I suppose the English name of that butterfly would be ‘Heavenly Birdwing’.

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

ORNITHOPTERA GOLIATH SUPREMUS
Ornithoptera Goliath
Goliath Birdwing

2001
Acrylic on birch ply & cocobola
h 16” w 27.5”
40cm x 69.5cm

READ MORE

This is thought to be the second largest butterfly after the Queen Alexandria’s Birdwing. It is found mostly in Papua New Guinea though some sub species are found in northern Irian Jaya and adjacent Islands. It lives in both primary and secondary forest from the lowlands to the highlands. As with all birdwings it breeds on the aristolachia vine, the poisons of which are passed on to the adults or imagos.

  • It was first described in 1888.
  • There are considered to be 8 subspecies.
  • The males have a wingspan of up to 20 cm.
  • The females have a wingspan of up to 22 cm.

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

ORNITHOPTERA VICTORIAE REGINA
Ornithoptera Victorae
Queen Victoria’s Birdwing

2001
Acrylic on birch ply & cherry
h 16” w 27.5”
40cm x 69.5cm

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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’.