The Richmond birdwing butterfly [Ornithoptera richmondia] is the largest subtropical butterfly in Australia. Its original range was from Maryborough down to Grafton in NSW. Anecdotally there were thousands seen in the streets around Brisbane in the later 1800’s.
With urban expansion, broad scale agriculture and grazing took up much of the land that supported the host plant for this species. This is, you guessed it, Richmond birdwing butterfly vine or Pararistolochia praevenosa.
Adult butterflies feed on just about anything to get nectar as a food source. Larvae are often species specific; the Birdwing on P. praevenosa in lowlands and P. laheyana at altitude.
In Queensland the butterfly is now listed as ‘Vulnerable’ and efforts have been afoot to ‘Bring back the birdwing’ for many years. The CSIRO Double Helix science club raised the profile of the butterfly, and Dr Don Sands continued to champion the cause to recover this valuable species. This work continues today via the Richmond Birdwing Conservation Network under the auspices of Wildlife Preservation Society of Qld. The good thing is that you don’t need broad acre to create habitat. Any one can plant a vine [or two] in their suburban yard…or in a pot!
Noosa Landcare have recently donated vines to go to Land for Wildilfe properties, and have a promotion on the vines at the HinterHub in Pomona.
We grow a lot of vines for distribution all over S E Qld. Recently one of our sharp-eyed people noticed grubs feeding on our vines. A closer inspection revealed these grubs to be Richmond birdwing larvae…and just last week we saw a chrysalis formed. Won’t be long before we see an adult Birdwing [or three] flying around Pomona.
This season has seen record numbers of adult butterflies so we are hoping that this is going to be a real success story.
One of our volunteers was even stalked by one recently, as this picture shows.
This is conservation we can all get involved in – and to see the adult butterfly is pretty special.