Tithonus Birdwing

Scientific Name
Ornithoptera tithonus
DE HAAN, 1840
Specie in
Tithonus Birdwing Ornithoptera tithonus, Meni, Arfak, Irian Jaya - Jean Michel
Tithonus Birdwing Ornithoptera tithonus, Meni, Arfak, Irian Jaya – Jean Michel


The genus Ornithoptera (regarded by some authors as a subgenus of Troides) comprises of some of the largest and most magnificent butterflies on Earth. There are 13 species, including the Queen Alexandra Birdwing alexandrae, the female of which is the largest butterfly in the world, with a wing span of up to 20cms (8″). The commonest and most widespread species is priamus which is found in the Moluccas, New Guinea, the Solomon islands and northern Australia.

Another famous species is Ornithoptera croesus, a creature so stunningly beautiful that it inspired the legendary explorer and naturalist Alfred Russell Wallace to write the following:

“During my very first walk into the forest at Batchian, I had seen sitting on a leaf out of reach, an immense butterfly of a dark colour marked with white and yellow spots. I could not capture it as it flew away high up into the forest, but I at once saw that it was a female of a new species of Ornithoptera or “bird-winged butterfly,” the pride of the Eastern tropics.I was very anxious to get it and to find the male, which in this genus is always of extreme beauty. During the two succeeding months I only saw it once again, and shortly afterwards I saw the male flying high in the air at the mining village. I had begun to despair of ever getting a specimen as it seemed so rare and wild; till one day, about the beginning of January, I found a beautiful shrub with large white leafy bracts and yellow flowers, a species of Mussaenda, and saw one of these noble insects hovering over it, but it was too quick for me, and flew away.The next day I went again to the same shrub and succeeded in catching a female, and the day after a fine male. I found it to be as I had expected, a perfectly new and most magnificent species, and one of the most gorgeously coloured butterflies in the world. Fine specimens of the male are more than seven inches across the wings, which are velvety black and fiery orange, the latter colour replacing the green of the allied species.The beauty and brilliancy of this insect are indescribable, and none but a naturalist can understand the intense excitement I experienced when I at length captured it. On taking it out of my net and opening the glorious wings, my heart began to beat violently, the blood rushed to my head, and I felt much more like fainting than I have done when in apprehension of immediate death. I had a headache the rest of the day, so great was the excitement produced by what will appear to most people a very inadequate cause.”

Ornithoptera tithonus is endemic to Irian Jaya (the western half of New Guinea).


This species breeds in primary rainforest in valleys of the Arfak mountains in Irian Jaya.


To be completed.

Adult behaviour

Ornithoptera tithonus and related birdwing species breed in the valleys of the Arfak mountains, but both sexes “hill-top” at the ridges between the valleys, where courtship and copulation take place. The butterflies are highly prized by butterfly collectors, and are caught by native Papuan hunters, who spread out large sheets of red cloth to lure the butterflies to the ground. At a typical collecting spot, an Ornithoptera species descends to the red cloth about once every 10 minutes.

More on this topic

Butterfly of
Scientific Name
Ornithoptera tithonus
DE HAAN, 1840

Related Species