Ornithoptera meridionalis (Rothschild, 1897)

Gulf Province, Papua New Guinea, 10/99  male  (specimen from Miguel Serrano)
Gulf Province, Papua New Guinea, 10/99  female   (specimen from Miguel Serrano)

   For years one of the rarest and most sought after butterflies in the world, it is known  only from a few isolated locations in New Guinea, oddly enough from both the extreme east and west ends of the island. No records exist for the interior but it may well be present just exceedingly rare. One can spend years collecting in its habitat and never even see a specimen (Straatman). Males are poor flyers due to the atrophied hind wings, and spend most of their brief lives perched high in the forest canopy awaiting a female. The larval  food plant (a species of Aristolochia) is also rather scarce and the larva has a habit of killing its host prior to pupating by chewing through the stem, thereby killing any other larvae trying to feed off the same vine. Females fly long distances in search of a mate and a new host plant to deposit their few precious eggs. Breeding has only recently begun in Irian Jaya and Papua New Guinea and is reportedly extremely difficult. Pairs commonly sell for $1200 US and up; Listed in appendix II of CITES, legally bred specimens are only recently (this decade) being seen. Probably not threatened as a species, but it requires large areas of primary rain forest and precise environmental conditions to breed succesfully. It is a spectacular and fascinating species, and hopefully money raised from its commercial breeding and export will help to greatly expand areas of protected forests in Irian Jaya and Papua New Guinea .