Not only are butterflies one of the most beautiful creatures on Earth, they also have an extremely important ecological role as pollinators and have played an important role in human culture for thousands of years. Butterfly paintings in Egypt date back 3,500 years, and butterflies have been described in songs and poems around the world.
Butterflies are less efficient pollinators than bumblebees because they lack specialized structures to collect pollen. For example, bees have corbiculae on their hind legs, also known as pollen baskets, that efficiently collect pollen. Bumblebees are particularly good at pollinating tubular flowers because of their long, thin tongues. The tiny hairs on their bodies collect pollen as they pass through flowers. Instead of gathering pollen for food like bees do, butterflies inadvertently pollinate flowers with their wings while drinking nectar.
There are more than 24,000 species of butterflies that vary in size, color and shape. Interestingly, the wings of butterflies are covered with small scales measuring 30-80 microns x 30-500 microns, the area that refracts light to produce the vibrant colors we see. The bright patterns on butterflies’ wings are thought to serve a variety of purposes, including attracting mates and deceiving predators.
This article explores some of the largest of these beautiful creatures. These are the 12 largest butterfly species based on maximum wingspan.
#12: Jamaican Giant Swallowtail – 6 Inch Wingspan
The female Jamaican giant swallowtail, also known as Homer’s swallowtail, has a maximum wingspan of about 6 inches. This butterfly is endemic to Jamaica and is listed as endangered. Today Jamaica has only two isolated populations. In the caterpillar stage, the Jamaican giant swallowtail has a unique organ in the back of its head called the osmeterium, which emits a foul smell when the caterpillar feels threatened by a predator.
#11: Small Batwing – 6.4″ Wingspan
The lesser batwing butterfly is an Asian butterfly with a wingspan of up to 6.4 inches. This butterfly is mainly distributed in northern India, Myanmar, Bhutan, northern Vietnam, northern Laos and southern China. Although the little batwing is not very common, it is not considered a threatened species. This butterfly is admired in nature for its striking colors and slow, graceful flight.
#10: Miranda Birdwing – 6.5” Wingspan
The Miranda birdwing butterfly has a wingspan of up to 6.5 inches and is found in Borneo and Sumatra. The butterfly is not endangered and is listed as a species of least concern. The Miranda birdwing is named after the scientist Miranda Butler who first described the species in 1869.
#9: Magellan Birdwing – 7.1” Wingspan
Magellanic birdwing butterflies can have a wingspan of up to 7.1 inches. The butterfly, which can be found on Orchid Island in the Philippines and Taiwan, is the least concerned about its conservation status. Magellanic birds have iridescent wings that refract blue and green light at oblique angles. The butterfly is named after explorer Ferdinand Magellan, who died in the Philippines in 1521.
#8: Chimaera Birdwing- 7.1″ Wingspan
The chimeric birdwing butterfly has a massive wingspan of 7.1 inches wide, on par with the Magellanic birdwing butterfly. This butterfly is found in the mountains of Papua New Guinea and is considered Near Threatened. Like many butterflies, chimera birdwings are a sexually dimorphic species, with males having bright green wings and females having larger dark brown and white wings. The name “chimaera” comes from a creature in Greek mythology that was a hybrid of various animals.
#7: Wallace’s Gold Bird Wings – 7.5” Wingspan
Wallace’s golden bird wings have an impressive 7.5-inch wingspan. The butterfly is a vulnerable species, but it was reclassified as Near Threatened in 2018 after successful conservation efforts limited international trade. The Wallace butterfly is distributed in Indonesia, mainly in lowland swampy environments. The butterfly is named after Alfred Russel Wallace, who first described the species in 1859.in his book malay archipelagoWallace described his reaction to seeing the beautiful butterfly for the first time, saying: “When I took it out of the net and spread its beautiful wings, my heart started beating so hard that the blood Going to my head, I feel more like I’m passing out than when I fear immediate death, which I’ve done.”
#6: Palawan Birdwing – 7.5” Wingspan
The Palawan bird’s wings are juxtaposed with Wallace’s golden one, with an impressive wingspan of up to 7.5 inches. The Palawan birdwing, also known as the triangular birdwing, is found only on the island of Palawan in the Philippines. These butterflies are most prolific near Cleopatra’s Needles in Palawan, but can be seen year-round in other mountains as well.
#5: Rippon’s Birdwing- 7.9″ Wingspan
Rippon’s Birdwing Butterfly has a wingspan of up to 7.9 inches. Endemic to the Moluccas and Sulawesi islands in Indonesia, the butterfly is a protected species but not considered endangered. It is speculated that the bright yellow color of Rippon’s bird’s wings can deceive predators and mimic wasps as a defense mechanism.
#4: Buru Opalescent Birdwing – 7.9″ Wingspan
At 7.9 inches wide, the Buru Creamy Birdwing has an incredibly similar wingspan to the Rippon Birdwing. This butterfly is only found in Buru, Moluccas, Indonesia, and inhabits high altitudes between 1300 and 1600 meters above sea level. The Buru milky birdwing is classified as Vulnerable and is at risk of extinction in the wild. These butterflies are primarily threatened by habitat destruction from specimen collection and logging.
#3: African Giant Swallowtail – 9.1 Inch Wingspan
The African Giant Swallowtail is a huge butterfly, measuring up to 9.1 inches across. The butterfly is the largest in Africa and has a wide range, covering 12 African countries. The African giant swallowtail has no natural predators as it is highly poisonous and can cause illness and even death if ingested. The butterfly’s conservation status is “data deficient,” meaning there isn’t enough information to properly classify it.
#2: Goliath Birdwing- 10-11 inch Wingspan
The second largest butterfly in the world has huge wings that can be up to 11 inches wide. The goliath birdwing butterfly lives in the rainforests of Papua New Guinea and neighboring islands, and its conservation status has received the least attention. The butterfly is named after the biblical giant Goliath for its gigantic size, and its subspecies are also named after mythological giants such as the Titans, Atlas and Samson.
#1: Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing – 11″ Wingspan
The largest butterfly in the world, with a massive 11-inch wingspan, is Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing. The butterfly is named after Alexandra of Denmark, who was Queen of England and Empress of India from 1901 to 1910. The Queen Alexandra swallowtail butterfly is listed as endangered and only occurs in Papua New Guinea’s 40 square miles of coastal rainforest. As a result, this butterfly is one of only three insects on CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) Appendix I that bans all international trade in this species. The 1951 eruption of Mount Lamington led to habitat destruction, resulting in a decline in the number of Queen Alexandra’s wings.
Butterflies come in many sizes and colors. Not only are they beautiful, but they are also very useful as pollinators. These are the twelve largest butterflies:
|1.||Queen Alexandra’s Wings||11 inches|
|2.||goliath bird wings||10-11 inches|
|3.||African Giant Swallowtail||9.1 inches|
|4.||Blue Opalescent Bird Wing||7.9 inches|
|5.||Ripon’s Wings||7.9 inches|
|6.||Palawan bird wings||7.5 inches|
|7.||Wallace’s Golden Bird Wings||7.5 inches|
|8.||Chimera Wing||7.1 inches|
|9.||Magellan bird wing||7.1 inches|
|10.||Miranda Birdwing||6.5 inches|
|11.||little batwing||6.4 inches|
|12.||Jamaican Giant Swallowtail||6 inches|
I am broadly interested in how human activities influence the ability of wildlife to persist in the modified environments that we create.
Specifically, my research investigates how the configuration and composition of landscapes influence the movement and population dynamics of forest birds. Both natural and human-derived fragmenting of habitat can influence where birds settle, how they access the resources they need to survive and reproduce, and these factors in turn affect population demographics. Most recently, I have been studying the ability of individuals to move through and utilize forested areas which have been modified through timber harvest as they seek out resources for the breeding and postfledging phases. As well I am working in collaboration with Parks Canada scientists to examine in the influence of high density moose populations on forest bird communities in Gros Morne National Park. Many of my projects are conducted in collaboration or consultation with representatives of industry and government agencies, seeking to improve the management and sustainability of natural resource extraction.
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