Giant birdwing transforms from caterpillar to cocoon to butterfly
The birdwing butterflies are the largest in the world. There are 36 recognized species living throughout Asia and Australasia. They are enormous and beautiful, with some reaching a wingspan of up to ten inches (20cm). The butterflies are colorful and ornate, in most cases, with striking wing patterns.
This gorgeous female begins life as the spiky and beautifully colored caterpillar that can be seen devouring the leaves of the vine that it is inhabiting. Voracious eaters that do not travel far, the caterpillars can strip a plant if there are too many in one area.
The caterpillars are highly toxic due to their diet. The vines they feed upon contain aristolchic acid, a poisonous compound that is carcinogenic. Even after metamorphosis, the butterflies are also toxic to predators. Huge and spiky, the caterpillar is not an easy meal, even without its toxicity. If provoked, the caterpillar can release a fetid compound to deter animals.
This enormous caterpillar formed a chrysalid that was camouflaged to look like a dead leaf. A delicate thread holds the chrysalid suspended under a leaf. After several weeks, the butterfly emerged and spent the day stretching and drying its wings for flight. The male of the species is even more colorful than this female, as beautiful as she is.
Nature enthusiasts who had been photographing this butterfly at Walindi Resort in Papua New Guinea were treated to quite a show. It emerged early in the morning, stretching and flapping and putting on a wonderful show for those who had been watching.
Early in the afternoon, the butterfly took off and flew from its resting place. This butterfly will mate and lay eggs, living up to three months as an adult.
One of the naturalists placed a hand carefully behind the butterfly to provide a sense of scale. It is easy to see why the butterfly is names "birdwing".