Ornithoptera richmondia

Ornithoptera richmondia, the Richmond birdwing, is a species of birdwingbutterfly that is endemic to Australia. It is the second smallest of the birdwing species, the smallest being Ornithoptera meridionalis.

Species of butterfly

Richmond birdwing
Live male specimen
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Lepidoptera
Family: Papilionidae
Genus: Ornithoptera
O. richmondia
Binomial name
Ornithoptera richmondia

(Gray, 1853)
Distribution of Ornithoptera richmondia (in purple) and other species of Ornithoptera in Australia
  • Papilio richmondia
  • Troides priamus richmondia

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Historically, O. richmondia is recorded from rainforests southwards from Maryborough to the Clarence River in New South Wales. Due to widespread habitat loss throughout its range, its distribution is much more restricted, especially in Queensland. Its present-day range is from Kin Kin and Pomona, North Arm, Yandina, Coolum (although this population is now extinct due to drought), Parklands and Nambour, Diddillibah, Buderim, Eudlo, Palmwoods, the Mooloolah and Diamond Valleys, the entire Blackall Range southeast from Kenilworth to the state forest near the Caloundra Turnoff and west to Peachester and the Stanley River, and the Conondale Range southwards to Mount Mee.

South of Brisbane, the species is recorded along the Nerang River and the Tallebudgera valleys and has an important stronghold in the national parks adjacent to the Queensland-New South Wales border. In New South Wales, the species is widespread in rainforest southwards to the Blackwall Range near Wardell and the Cherry Tree State Forest near Mallangangee (Braby 2000, Sands & New 2002, Sands & Scott 1997). Note that although the species may be abundant at altitude (e.g. the Queensland-New South Wales border ranges national parks), these populations typically die out due to cold winter temperatures and require migration of adults from the lowlands for persistence. Population sizes in these habitats therefore vary from year to year.

A recommended viewing locality for this species is the car park at the base of the summit trail to Mount Warning in Mount Warning National Park, New South Wales. Given good weather during their flight period, sighting this butterfly is almost a certainty.

Ornithoptera richmondia figs. 1 and 2 The plate accompanied Gray’s original description. The female Ornithoptera euphorion below (fig. 3) is much larger.

O. richmondia has never received an official IUCN classification (Collins & Morris, 1985), however Sands & Scott (1997) regarded it to satisfy the “vulnerable” category because of habitat loss across its former range. Currently, it is considered not of concern in New South Wales and low risk (least concern) in Queensland (Sands & New, 2002). This species was previously more abundant than it is now, especially in Queensland, with Illidge (1927) noting the species to be common in Brisbane in the early 1900s.

North of Brisbane, the species is now restricted to small patches of remnant rainforest with relatively few populations secure in national parks or forest reserves; strongholds include the Connondale and Blackall ranges. Ornithoptera richmondia is more abundant south of the Nerang River, especially in Lamington National Park and the associated border ranges. Threatening processes for this species are habitat loss and several previously robust populations near Buderim now locally extinct due to habitat destruction for housing and commercial development, other habitat clearing activities and edge effects, which alter the climatic conditions required for the immature stages of this species to successfully develop. Another threatening process is the non-native environmental weed Aristolochia littoralis, or Dutchman’s pipevine (see below).

In recent years, retired CSIRO entomologist D.P.A. Sands has led a series of recovery projects for O. richmondia. The first was largely run in association with the CSIRO’s Double Helix school program (Sands and Scott 1997) and focused on planting Pararistolochia praevenosa, in schools and conservation reserves. The current recovery programme is run through the Richmond Birdwing Butterfly Recovery Network, which aims to establish corridors between existing populations and assist existing populations by planting host plants, maintain previous plantings of host plants, propagate further vines for future planting and continue education and public awareness through seminars and newsletters. Both campaigns have been extremely successful in establishing the Richmond birdwing as a flagship species for rainforest conservation in southeastern Queensland (Sands & Scott, 1997).

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