Rothschild’s birdwing (Ornithoptera rothschildi)

The upperside of a mounted specimen of a male Rothschild's birdwing butterfly
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Rothschild’s birdwing fact file

Rothschild’s birdwing description

GenusOrnithoptera (1)

The narrow forewings of the male Rothschild’s birdwing are black with scattered yellowish-green scales. The oval hindwings are edged with black and have a central patch of yellow bordering a smaller area of lime green and a series of prominent black spots. The underside is similar but more golden. Females are largely dark brown, but have a series of pale spots on the forewings and the hindwings bear a large patch of yellow-brown colour enclosing a series of black spots. The abdomen is ringed with black. The caterpillar is black and spiky, with bright yellow horns. The pupa is black and yellow (3) (4) (5).


Rothschild’s birdwing biology

The Rothschild’s birdwing lays up to 20 eggs on the food plant – a Pararistolchia species. Once hatched, the caterpillars consume the leaves of the plant before pupating. The pupa undergoes metamorphosis and emerges some weeks later as the adult butterfly (4).


Rothschild’s birdwing range

Restricted to the western part of the island of New Guinea, Indonesia (1) (5).


Rothschild’s birdwing habitat

This is a high elevation species, which inhabits rich, shrubby habitats in sheltered valleys and ravines that are protected from strong winds (6). Most records are from between 1,500 and 2,500 metres above sea level (4).


Rothschild’s birdwing status

The Rothschild’s birdwing is classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1), and is listed on Appendix II of CITES (2).

IUCN Red List species status – Vulnerable


Rothschild’s birdwing threats

Rothschild’s birdwing has a very restricted distribution (6), making it very vulnerable to any threats that may arise. In the past, there was a considerable trade in this species, but this diminished in the early 1980s. Today, no particular threats to its habitats have been identified, but a dense human population and the cutting of wood in the forests is a general threat to the region in which this butterfly occurs (6). However, this high altitude species is offered some natural protection through the remoteness of its habitat (5).


Rothschild’s birdwing conservation

There is no targeted conservation action for this species and as long as the human population continues to grow in Indonesia, habitat loss will continue. Rothschild’s birdwing is listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which serves to regulate the trade in the species or any of its parts by requiring export licences and producing quotas (2).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.


Authenticated (05/08/08) by John Tennent, Scientific Associate, Department of Entomology, The Natural History Museum, London.



In arthropods (crustaceans, insects and arachnids) the abdomen is the hind region of the body, which is usually segmented to a degree (but not visibly in most spiders). In crustacea (e.g. crabs) some of the limbs attach to the abdomen; in insects the limbs are attached to the thorax (the part of the body nearest to the head) and not the abdomen. In vertebrates the abdomen is the part of the body that contains the internal organs (except the heart and lungs).
An abrupt physical change from the larval to the adult form.
An inactive stage in an insect’s development when reorganisation takes place to create the adult form from the larval form. In butterflies the pupa is also called a chrysalis.
The process of forming a pupa, the stage in an insect’s development when huge changes occur that reorganise the larval form into the adult form. In butterflies the pupa is also called a chrysalis.


  1. IUCN Red List (July, 2008)
  2. CITES (May, 2005)
  3. Kenrick, G.H. (1911) Some undescribed butterflies from Dutch New Guinea. Transactions of the Entomological Society, 44: 16 - 20.
  4. Matsuka, H. (2001) Natural History of the Birdwing Butterflies. Matsuka Shappan, Japan.
  5. Tennent, J. (2008) Pers. comm.
  6. Collins, N.M. and Morris, M.G. (1985) Threatened Swallowtail Butterflies of the World. The IUCN Red Data Book, IUCN.

Image credit

The upperside of a mounted specimen of a male Rothschild's birdwing butterfly  
The upperside of a mounted specimen of a male Rothschild's birdwing butterfly

© The Natural History Museum, London

The Natural History Museum Picture Library
Cromwell Road
United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0) 207 942 5323
Fax: +44 (0) 207 942 5443


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