Buru opalescent birdwing (Troides prattorum)

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The upperside of a mounted specimen of a male Buru opalescent birdwing butterfly
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Buru opalescent birdwing fact file

Buru opalescent birdwing description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumArthropoda
ClassInsecta
OrderLepidoptera
FamilyPapilionidae
GenusTroides (1)

Confined to the island of Buru, Indonesia (4), this huge and spectacular black and yellow butterfly is named for the unusual, opalescent gloss of the male’s hindwing (4) (5) (6). The hindwings are golden yellow and display a striking iridescent blue-green sheen when viewed at an angle (2) (4). The hindwing of the female Buru opalescent birdwing is mostly suffused with black, but an iridescent sheen may be present on the restricted yellow areas (7).

Size
Size: up to 12.7 cm (2)
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Buru opalescent birdwing biology

Buru Island has long remained relatively inaccessible, and very little is therefore known about the life-history of the Buru opalescent birdwing (4). However, there are certain biological characteristics known to be common to most, if not all, birdwing butterflies. The adults of all Troides species feed on the nectar of flowers, and the larvae on the leaves of Aristolochia and Pararistolochia plants (both in the family Aristolochiaceae) (8). The eggs are normally laid on these plants, and once the caterpillars hatch, they voraciously munch through the leaves around them. Feeding upon these plants also serves as a defensive mechanism, as they contain certain acids that make the caterpillars toxic and therefore unappealing to most predators (9). The caterpillars eventually pupate and undergo metamorphosis into adult butterflies, and may even manage to maintain this toxic acid in their tissues into adulthood (9). Troides birdwings typically pupate on the twigs or stems of plants close to the larval food plant or on the food plant itself (6).

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Buru opalescent birdwing range

As its common name implies, the Buru opalescent birdwing is endemic to Buru Island, Indonesia (4).

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Buru opalescent birdwing habitat

Known mostly from the mountain forests of the Buru’s interior, on the high plateau in the west and centre of the island (5) (7).

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Buru opalescent birdwing status

Classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix II of CITES (3).

IUCN Red List species status – Vulnerable

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Buru opalescent birdwing threats

Major threats to Troides butterflies include deforestation due to logging and agricultural intensification, although since this is a moderate to high altitude species, it is probably at less risk than similar species at low elevations (10).

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Buru opalescent birdwing conservation

In the years between 1965 and 1979, Buru was a 'rehabilitation centre' for political prisoners, and entering the island was virtually impossible for foreign travellers (4). In addition, certain native tribes had a reputation for extreme aggression, which deterred potential collectors from visiting the island (6). Thus, the inaccessibility of the island has certainly been to the advantage of the Buru opalescent birdwing. Furthermore, its listing on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) helps protect this endemic butterfly from excessive trade to international collectors (3), and therefore over collection from the wild. In recent years, villagers have learned to farm the butterfly, and reared specimens are now available on the international market, reducing pressure on wild individuals (5).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
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Authentication

Authenticated (05/08/08) by John Tennent, Scientific Associate, Department of Entomology, The Natural History Museum, London.

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Glossary

Endemic
A species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
Larvae
Stage in an animal’s lifecycle after it hatches from the egg. Larvae are typically very different in appearance to adults; they are able to feed and move around but usually are unable to reproduce.
Metamorphosis
An abrupt physical change from the larval to the adult form.
Pupate
The process of becoming a pupa, the stage of an insect’s development, when huge changes occur that reorganise the larval form into the adult form. In butterflies the pupa is also called a chrysalis.
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References

  1. IUCN Red List (May, 2008)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org
  2. Natural History Museum (July, 2006)
    http://piclib.nhm.ac.uk/piclib/www/image.php?img=47547&frm=ser&search=iridescent
  3. CITES (January, 2006)
    http://www.cites.org
  4. The World of Birdwing Butterflies (July, 2006)
    http://www.nagypal.net/ttpratto.htm
  5. Troides prattorum (July, 2006)
    http://home.att.net/~Bret71/T_prattorum.htm
  6. Haugum, J. and Low, A.M. (1985) A Monograph of the Birdwing Butterflies. Scandinavian Science Press, Klampenborg.
  7. Tennent, J. (2008) Pers. comm.
  8. Yen, S.H. and Yang, P.S. (2001) Illustrated Identification Guide to Insects Protected by the CITES and Wildlife Conservation Law of Taiwan. R.O.C. Council of Agriculture, Taiwan.
  9. Tree of Life Web Project (July, 2006)
    http://tolweb.org/tree?group=Papilionidae&contgroup=Papilionoidea
  10. Collins, N.M. and Morris, M.G. (1985) Threatened Swallowtail Butterflies of the World. The IUCN Red Data Book, IUCN.
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Image credit

The upperside of a mounted specimen of a male Buru opalescent birdwing butterfly  
The upperside of a mounted specimen of a male Buru opalescent birdwing butterfly

© The Natural History Museum, London

The Natural History Museum Picture Library
Cromwell Road
London
SW7 5BD
United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0) 207 942 5323
Fax: +44 (0) 207 942 5443
nhmpl@nhm.ac.uk
http://www.nhm.ac.uk/piclib

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