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Species profile—Ornithoptera richmondia (Richmond birdwing)


Animalia (animals) → Insecta (insects) → Papilionidae (swallowtails) → Ornithoptera richmondia (Richmond birdwing)

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Species details

Animalia (animals)
Insecta (insects)
Papilionidae (swallowtails)
Scientific name
Ornithoptera richmondia (Gray, [1853])
Common name
Richmond birdwing
WildNet taxon ID
Troides richmondia
Alternate name(s)
Richmond birdwing butterfly
Nature Conservation Act 1992 (NCA) status
Conservation significant
Pest status
The Richmond birdwing is one of Australia's largest butterflies with a wingspan of up to 15cm in females and 13cm in males. The wings of males are velvety green and black on the upper side, with vivid blue, green and gold patches on the hindwings on the underside. The wings of the female are dark grey or brown with white and yellow patches on the upper and underside. Both male and female have a green stripe on the thorax (between the head and stomach) and distinctive red patches on their bodies at the base of the wing.
The mature larvae can grow up to 70mm long and are variable in colour, ranging from black to whitish grey. Larvae have a series of prominent, fleshy spines running along their belly.
(Common & Waterhouse 1981; Sands & Scott 1996; Braby 2000).
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The Richmond birdwing distribution once extended from Grafton in New South Wales to Maryborough in southern Queensland. Today it is only known in two areas from Caboolture to Kin Kin in the north and Nerang to Wardell in New South Wales in the south. (Sands & New 2002).
Distributional limits
-26.25, 152.25
-29.5, 153.75
Range derivation
Range estimated from a distribution map
Richmond birdwing butterflies live in subtropical rainforest where its larval host plants Richmond birdwing vine and mountain aristolochia vine grow. The Richmond birdwing vine occurs below 600m asl on basaltic slopes, creek banks, or on volcanic alluvial soils near watercourses, while mountain aristolochia vine occurs on basaltic ridges and slopes at >800m asl. Montane populations are subject to periodic extinctions and re-colonisation is dependent on immigrants from the lowlands. (Common & Waterhouse 1981; Sands & Scott 1996; Sands et al. 1997).
This species has a flying period from September to April in coastal areas and November to February in coastal ranges. Adults fly throughout the day but are more active during the early morning and late afternoon. The larvae have relatively high food demands and may cannibalise each other, resulting in low densities on suitable vines. (Common & Waterhouse 1981; Sands 1990; FitzGibbon 1997; Sands et al. 1997; Braby 2000; Sands & Scott 2002).
The Richmond birdwing lays round, greenish-yellow eggs singly or in small clusters on the native Richmond birdwing vine (Paristolochia praevenosa) and the mountain aristolochia vine (P. laheyana). The eggs hatch in 9-13 days, begin pupation at 1 month and typically emerge 29-40 days later. Pupae formed late in the breeding season may enter diapause over winter, not emerging until the following spring. There are two breeding periods (bivoltine) per year in the lowlands, but only one per year (univoltine) at higher altitudes. (Common & Waterhouse 1981; Orr 1994; Sands & Scott 1996, 1997; Braby 2000; Sands & Scott 2002).
Adults feed on nectar from a range of rainforest canopy and exotic garden species. The primary food plant at altitudes below 600m is the Richmond birdwing vine (P.praevenosa), but in areas above 800m, mountain aristolochia (P.lahevana) is used as a substitute. (Manski 1960; Sands & Scott 1996; Sands et al. 1997).
Richmond Birdwing have few predators compared with other butterflies. Eggs are preyed upon by mites, ants, beetles and bug species. Larvae are taken by spiders, ants, beetles, bugs, birds and may be cannibalised by other larvae. Pupae are attacked by parasitoid wasps and birds. Adults are eaten by spiders, wasps and occassionaly birds. (Sands & Scott 2002).
Threatening processes
Known : 1. Habitat destruction and degradation, especially lowland rainforest containing suitable breeding sites.
2. Impact of exotic Aristolochia elegans which is toxic to larvae and has spread from gardens into national parks and reserves.
3. Sterility caused by inbreeding in isolated colonies.
Suspected : 1. Extreme environmental conditions, e.g prolonged drought.
2. Release into wild of Ornithoptera euphorion which can hybridise with O. richmondia.
All threatening processes listed by Sands & Scott (1996).
Status notes
Vulnerable - Nature Conservation Act 1992.
Management documents
Sands, D. and Scott, S. (1996). Richmond birdwing butterfly (Ornithoptera richmondia [Gray]) Recovery Plan 1996-2001. CSIRO Australia.
Management recommendations
Further enrichment planting of larval food plant vine.
Investigation of control measures for A. elegans.
Feasibility study of captive breeding program.
Conservation of birdwing habitat.
Current programs projects
Extensive media involvement. Involvement of schools in Richmond Valley region in planting A. praevenosa vines. School involvement in South-eastern Queensland. Removal of A. elegans infestations.
Contributors: Sean FitzGibbon 1/05/1997; David McFarland 26/10/2007; Danielle Hansen 16/10/2008; Wayne Martin 17/11/2008.
Braby, M.F. (2000). Butterflies of Australia: Their Identification, Biology and Distribution. CSIRO Publishing, Melbourne. Two volumes, xx+976 pp.
Common, I.F.B. & Waterhouse, D.F. (1981). Butterflies of Australia. Revised edition. CSIRO Publishing, East Melbourne. xiv+682 pp.
FitzGibbon, S. (1997). Taxon Notes for Ornithoptera richmondia. WildNet, Environmental Protection Agency : Brisbane.
Dunn, K.L. & Dunn, L.E. (1991). Review of Australian Butterflies : Distribution, Life History and Taxonomy. Part 1 : Introduction, Papilionidae, Pieridae and Regional Adult Temporal Data. Dunn & Dunn : Melbourne.
Manski, M.J. (1960). Food plats of some Queensland lepidoptera. Queensland Naturalist 16, 68-73.
McFarland, D.C. (2007). Taxon Profiles Version 2.0: Threatened And Priority Fauna Taxa In Queensland: Biology And Distribution. Queensland Environmental Protection Agency, Brisbane.
Orr, A. G. (1994). Inbreeding depression in Australian butterflies: some implications for conservation. Memoirs of the Queensland Museum 36, 179-184.
Sands, D. (1990). Australia's endangered butterflies. Entomological Society of Queensland News Bulletin 18, 63-68.
Sands, D.P.A. & New, T.R. (2002). The Action Plan for Australian Butterflies. Environment Australia, Canberra.
Sands, D.P.A. & Scott, S.E. (1996). Richmond Birdwing Butterfly (Ornithoptera richmondia [Gray]) Recovery Plan 1996-2001. CSIRO Australia : Indooroopilly.
Sands, D & Scott, S. (1997). Richmond Birdwing. Nature Australia 25(7), 24-29.
Sands, D.P.A. & Scott, S. (2002). The Richmond birdwing butterfly (Ornithoptera richmondia [Gray]). In: D.P.A. Sands & S. Scott (eds). Conservation of Birdwing Butterflies, SciComEd Pty Ltd, Marsden, Qld. pp. 32-47.
Sands, D.P.A., Scott, S.E. & Moffatt, R. (1997). The threatened Richmond Birdwing Butterfly (Ornithoptera richmondia [Gray]): a community conservation project. Memoirs of the Museum of Victoria 56, 449-453.
Profile author
David McFarland (17/11/2008)
Current programs & projects
Extensive media involvement. Involvement of schools in Richmond Valley region in planting A. praevenosa vines. School involvement in South-eastern Queensland. Removal of A. elegans infestations.

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Data source

This profile data is sourced from the QLD Wildlife Data API using the Get species by ID function used under CC-By 4.0.

This information is sourced from the WildNet database managed by the Queensland Department of Environment and Science.

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Last updated
20 May 2024