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World’s Largest Butterfly Could Disappear Forever (Video)

World’s Largest Butterfly Could Disappear Forever (Video)

 

The Queen Alexandra’s birdwing is the largest butterfly in the world, with a wingspan a foot wide. They are singularly gorgeous to behold, with the females black with cream patches and bright yellow abdomens and the males, who are about a third smaller, with gleaming patterns of gold, turquoise, green and black.

The fast-flying butterflies live only in the rainforests of Oro province in northern Papua New Guinea and face the loss of their habitat due to the growth of oil palm plantations, as well as farms for coffee and cocoa. They are currently classified as an appendix 1 species under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and cannot be traded as specimens for overseas collections. But would it be better to loosen these regulations and downgrade the Queen Alexandra’s protected status to appendix 1, to “incentivise poor subsistence farmers to protect the butterfly’s habitat by allowing them to sell an agreed quota of specimens,” asks the Guardian?

Eddie Malaisa, wildlife officer for Oro provincial government, argues for such. He notes that he is “very worried about this butterfly’s future because on the lower plains [he knows] of only seven isolated blocks where it’s found but these are small patches of rainforest between 100-200 hectares surrounded by oil palm.”

The global butterfly smuggling trade is estimated to be worth about $200 million a year, with a pair of Queen Alexandra’s birdwings potentially fetching $8,500 on the black market. The gigantic butterflies were first sighted in 1906 by British naturalist Albert Meek:

The fast-flying butterfly frequents high rainforest canopy so Meek resorted to blasting them down by shotgun. The Natural History Museum taxonomically allocated his buckshot-peppered specimens into the birdwing genus (a tropical grouping possessing super-elongated forewings) and named it after Edward VII’s wife.

One possible reason for why the butterflies are thought to grow so large is their lack of predators due to thier “unpalatable” nature:

Queen Alexandra’s eggs are laid on the poisonous leaves of a tropical pine-vine called aristolochia, found in Oro province’s rainforests. Emerging caterpillars feeding on aristolochia ingest its toxins throughout all stages of growth until they pupate into chrysalises. Red hairs on the emerged adult butterfly’s thorax warn predators that it remains highly toxic.

Sadly, the survival tricks that have aided Queen Alexandra’s birdwings for centuries can do little against the ever-rising threat of habitat clearance. Would it be better to, as Malaisa argues, allow the butterflies to be legally traded or remove their habitat, and them, forever?

Related Care2 Coverage

Global Warming’s Unseen Effects on Plants and Butterflies

Mild Winter, Early Spring: Bad News for Butterflies and Bees

72% of UK Butterfly Species in Decline

Read more:

Photo from a screenshot of a video uploaded by hexapodaric via YouTube

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86 comments

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10:26AM PST on Nov 13, 2012

how pretty and unique it's colors are!!! Beautiful butterfly but sad.

10:38AM PST on Nov 12, 2012

I HAVE TALKED TO QUITE A FEW PEOPLE CONCERNING OUR EARTH AND ITS MANY VARIOUS SPECIES. THEIR REPLY IS ALWAUS THE SAME, "OH, IT'S JUST A DOG." "OH IT'S JUST A CAT." IT'S JUST, WHAT EVER....... WELL SOMEDAY IT'S JUST GOING TO BE YOU!!! IT MAKES ME SICK, THE LACK OF UNDERSTANDING AND COMPASSION THAT IS IN OUR WORLD TODAY!!

7:03PM PST on Nov 9, 2012

hAS IT WORKED BEFORE TO DOWNGRADE THE DANGER RATING OF A CREATURE AND THEN THE LOCALS UNITE TO PROTECT? PERHAPS WITH SOME STEADY INCOME FROM RAISING THEM?? I have signed several petitions against using palm oil ~NUTELLA ~~ and against "sustainable rainforest cutting" and of course against clear-cutting.

8:35AM PST on Nov 9, 2012

humans and the end of the world- synonymous with each other. sad but true....

7:23AM PST on Nov 9, 2012

Yes, very sad, indeed. But we can act! Please boycott palm oil. Contact Rainforest Relief (info@rainforestrelief.org) for a couple of companies we are targeting to end their use of palm oil. As well, all wood products originating from Indonesia's old growth rainforests should be avoided, included nyatoh (common in outdoor furniture), Shorea (often used for porches and other decking and plywood), lauan (plywood, used for movie, TV and theatrical sets and other uses), keruing (used for plywood and wheelbarrow handles), apitong (typically used for truck body flooring -- join our campaign to target Fed-Ex, UPS and many others ordering trucks with apitong floors from companies like Morgan and Supreme), jelutong (often used for pencils and carvings) and others. Check rainforestrelief.org for more but get in touch to help!

4:44PM PDT on Sep 23, 2012

A gorgeous butterfly but very sad news...

5:57PM PDT on Sep 8, 2012

It seems that no sooner do we learn about these magnficent creatures, than we are told they are fast disappearing from our planet. How sad!

10:21AM PDT on Aug 13, 2012

Very SAD

5:18PM PDT on Aug 12, 2012

the Indonesian government is massively corrupt, psychotic and greedy, like most governments in today's world.

4:23PM PDT on Aug 7, 2012

ty

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