Chimaera birdwing (Ornithoptera chimaera)

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Dorsal view of mounted specimen of a male chimaera birdwing
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Chimaera birdwing fact file

Chimaera birdwing description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumArthropoda
ClassInsecta
OrderLepidoptera
FamilyPapilionidae
GenusOrnithoptera (1)

The upperside of the forewings of the male chimaera birdwing (Ornithoptera chimaera) are black with three streaks of yellowish-green scales. The hindwings are mainly yellow with an area of black and small patches of green on top of the yellow (4). There are two or more black dots within the yellow area. The underside is more colourful with less black areas. Females are dark brown, with several indistinct white spots on the forewings and a broad pale band on the hindwing enclosing a semicircular series of black spots. The furry body is primarily black and yellow. The caterpillar has a black body with a yellow ‘saddle’, covered with small, spiky bumps. The pupa is black mottled with pale yellowish-brown (3).

While some scientists believe there are three subspecies of the chimaera birdwing (Ornithoptera chimaera chimaera, O. c. charybdis, and O. c. flavidior), each occupying slightly different ranges (4) (5), others believe that O. c. charybdis, and O. c. flavidior are simply local forms (6).

French
La Chimère, Ornithoptère Chimère.
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Chimaera birdwing biology

The adult chimaera birdwing feeds upon the nectar of hibiscus plants and African tulip trees, and groups of this species can be seen circling the tops of these trees. The female lays up to 20 eggs on the food plant and once hatched, the caterpillars consume the leaves of the plant before pupating. The pupa undergoes metamorphosis and emerges some weeks later as the adult butterfly (4).

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Chimaera birdwing range

The chimaera birdwing is restricted to montane areas of Papua New Guinea and Irian Jaya, Indonesia (4).

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Chimaera birdwing habitat

This striking butterfly inhabits primary rainforest from 1,200 to 2,800 metres above sea level, but it is most frequently encountered between 1,600 and 2,000 metres (3). Adult chimaera birdwings are most commonly encountered flying over ridges several metres above the ground or feeding at the flowers of tall forest trees, occasionally in large numbers (5).

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Chimaera birdwing status

The chimaera birdwing is classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List (1) and is listed on Appendix II of CITES (2). This species has been reassessed and will soon be classified as Least Concern (LC) (3).

IUCN Red List species status – Near Threatened

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Chimaera birdwing threats

Habitat loss is the main threat to the chimaera birdwing as forests are destroyed for agriculture, tree plantations, and urbanisation (1).

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Chimaera birdwing conservation

There is no targeted conservation action for this species and as long as the human population continues to grow in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, habitat loss will continue. The chimaera birdwing is listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, which serves to regulate the trade in the species or any of its parts by requiring export licences and producing quotas (2). While the collection of chimaera birdwings from the wild is not believed to pose a threat to the species, this butterfly is ranched in moderate numbers in the highlands of Papua New Guinea (3).

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

Metamorphosis
An abrupt physical change from the larval to the adult form.
Primary rainforest
Rainforest that has remained undisturbed for a long time and has reached a mature condition.
Pupa
An inactive stage in an insect’s development when reorganisation takes place to create the adult form from the larval form. In butterflies the pupa is also called a chrysalis.
Pupate
The process of forming a pupa, the stage in 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.
Subspecies
A population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.
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References

  1. IUCN Red List (February, 2011)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org
  2. CITES (May, 2005)
    http://www.cites.org
  3. Tennent, J. (2008) Pers. comm.
  4. Matsuka, H. (2001) Natural History of the Birdwing Butterflies. Matsuka Shappan, Japan.
  5. Parsons, M.J. (1998) The Butterflies of Papua New Guinea: Their Systematics and Biology. Academic Press, London.
  6. Deslisle, G. (2004) A taxonomic revision of the “birdwing butterflies of paradise”, genus Ornithoptera based on the adult morphology (Lepidoptera, Papilionidae). Lambillionea, 104(4): 1 - 151.
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Image credit

Dorsal view of mounted specimen of a male chimaera birdwing  
Dorsal view of mounted specimen of a male chimaera birdwing

© 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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