Southern Tailed Birdwing

Southern Tailed Birdwing (Ornithoptera meridionalis), is the smallest species of butterfly in its genus. It is found in southern Papua New Guinea and in several areas along the south coast of Irian Jaya. It is strictly a lowland species, favouring primary rainforest. A very few specimens have also been collected at altitude in Irian Jaya, however these specimens were reared from immature stages and emerged crippled, suggesting that high altitude forests are not favoured habitats.

Males are remarkable in that they have an extremely small amount of wing area relative to its rather bulky body. In particular, the hindwings are very reduced and tetragonal in shape, tapering into a single pair of filamentous tails that are easily broken. Specimens of this sex are weak fliers and tend to spend most of the day resting. Females are more normally proportioned and have a flight characteristic more typical of the genus Ornithoptera. Both sexes have been recorded feeding at flowers in numbers early in the morning.

The Southern Tailed Birdwing is threatened due to habitat loss (deforestation), especially in parts of Papua New Guinea. For example, a well known locality at the Brown River has now been destroyed by logging. There are a few villages farming this species in Papua New Guinea. Most commercially available specimens are now sourced from Irian Jaya and are extremely valuable (prices may exceed US$1000 per pair).

Photo Credit: Robert Nash Curator of Entomology, Ulster Museum