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The spectacular Richmond Birdwing Butterfly
is threatened by habitat destruction, loss
of its larval food plant and an
introduced weed
that poisons larvae (caterpillars).
Photo credit: Dr Don Sands  csiro.au

 Richmond Birdwing Butterflies
Photo credit - Qld Museum

Richmond Birdwing full Pupae

Richmond Birdwing caterpillar
Photo credit - Bob Miller

Pararistolochia praevenosa

The Richmond Birdwing vine.

When the caterpillars hatch, each one needs to eat more than a square metre of leaves and stem before it pupates.
Photo credit: Dr Don Sands

Birdwing Vine
photo credit - Elisabeth Fekonia

As gardeners, we can help to ensure the survival of the beautiful Richmond Birdwing Butterfly 
by growing the

Birdwing Vine
Pararistolochia praevenosa
It is one of the things we can do that leads to the greatest success at the moment. It is a vine that is found naturally in the tropical and subtropical rainforests, and it is their leaves that are the food for the caterpillars or larvae of this butterfly. The eggs laid by the butterfly hatch and need these particular leaves to feed on to be able to grow into mature larvae. They then form a pupae or chrysalis from which the butterfly hatches. The butterflies feed on the nectar of the flowers of the Birdwing Vine as well as other flowers, but the larvae will only eat the leaves of this vine. It is this specialised requirement that has been the difficult part of the breeding cycle to maintain.

Conservation of Birdwing Butterflies,
Don Sands and Sue Scott.
Published by SciComEd Pty Ltd,
2 Emily Street, Marsden, Queensland.
November 2002




The Richmond Birdwing Butterfly
     Ornithoptera richmondia

is one of Australia’s most impressive and beautiful native butterflies, but unfortunately it is under threat of extinction. Land clearing changes to horticultural and agricultural practices, and even the way we garden has brought about the threat of its demise. Without food and natural habitat the butterflies cannot breed.

There are about 30 species of Birdwing Butterflies that are native to areas from mainland Asia, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and to northeast Australia where the Richmond Birdwing has its natural habitat. The male of the species is much more attractive than the female. The wingspan of the female is about 14 cm across, while the male is smaller but much more colourful with dominant iridescent green wings splashed with velvet black and a yellow body.

All butterflies are an important part of the ecosystem, but the Richmond Birdwing Butterfly is especially important because it shows us the changes that are occurring in our environment, in the bush as well as urban areas. It is a butterfly that was once very common in the Brisbane area, with thousands occurring in the streets of Brisbane in the 1870’s, but these have disappeared in recent years. They have lost their breeding habitat as well as having only one food plant for the caterpillars, and these are being lost along with the bushland. Their habitat used to occur from Maryborough in Queensland down to the Clarence River in New South Wales, but there are only small pockets of the original distribution left outside Brisbane.



Aristolochia elegans

(Photo credit: Dr Don Sands)

 Dutchman's Pipe is a distant relative of the Richmond Birdwing butterfly's native larval food plant. It emits a substance that tricks the female butterflies into laying their eggs on this vine. It was a very popular introduced vine, planted in gardens. It is now a bushland weed.

Dutchman’s pipe vine is a vigorous exotic vine that originates from Brazil in South America. This vine typically grows in protected situations with high humidity, in full to medium light. It has been (and still is) cultivated as an ornamental plant in suburban gardens but has turned ‘garden escapee’ and over time has spread into bushland, including local rainforest remnants

Dutchman’s pipe vine is also known to be fatally attractive to the Richmond Birdwing Butterfly Ornithoptera richmondia; a large and spectacular butterfly once common in the Brisbane region.

Unfortunately, female butterflies find the foliage of Dutchman’s pipe vine extremely attractive as a food plant for their larvae. Richmond Birdwings are known to lay their eggs on the foliage of Dutchman’s pipe. The result is that the emerging hungry larvae are quickly poisoned by the toxins in the leaves of Dutchman’s pipe vine, thus restricting successful re-establishment and expansion of viable Richmond Birdwing populations.

Dutchman’s pipe vine is recognised by its broad, heart-shaped leaf with a distinct curved leaf base. Leaves are arranged alternately along the climbing stem and can be up to 12 cm long. The under surface of the leaf is a distinct pale grey-green with a waxy lustre. Stems of young vines are slightly channelled and corky, whilst larger vines are covered with a fissured corky or spongy brown bark that can be easily rubbed off

Another distinctive identification feature of this vine is the fruit - a segmented papery capsule (up to 6cm long) which opens like an upside down parachute and can remain attached to the vine stem for some time after opening. Each capsule contains around 350 papery, tear shaped seeds which are spread by wind or water (when growing along creeks).

McDonald, G.J., (1998)
Growing a butterfly garden in
South east Queensland. 

Bower, S., (1998) Weed Sheet No. 10
What’s eating your remnant?

Dutchmans pipe in Big Scrub
Rainforest Landcare Group Newsletter March 1998


At Beerwah just outside Brisbane,
some gardeners have created
a fabulous natural habitat for the Richmond Birdwing Butterfly

They have planted hundreds of the Birdwing Vine to provide a food
source especially for the larvae of the butterfly. They have also planted
many nectar-producing flowers for the butterflies themselves.
Not only are they growing these plants themselves but also they have
involved their neighbours and the whole community to do the same.
Now that they can observe the butterfly in their own gardens at close
range, they can see the value of keeping this beautiful butterfly alive.

      For more information  -  Visit the following website: http://www.abc.net.au/gardening/stories/s938771.htm


The origin of the word butterfly comes from the Anglo-
Saxons which used the word 'butterfloege' because
their most common one was the yellow brimstone butterfly. This English influence was brought to the new world.

In other languages the butterfly's name means 'licker of
milk' and milk thief.

In Russia they're called 'babochka' or 'little soul'.

The ancient Greeks called butterflies 'Psyche'
which also means 'soul.'

In France they are called 'papillon.' Parking tickets
are called 'papillon' too, because they are big pieces of
yellow paper. When they are placed under a windshield wiper they flap like a big yellow butterfly.

The Sioux Indians called butterflies fluttering wings.

For further interesting Butterfly information visit
the following website





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