Cairns Birdwing, laying eggs

A tangled mess of creepers sprawls untidily near our front gate, supported by the tall stump of a grevillea and a couple of nearly-dead frangipanis. It is really not very attractive but we leave it alone for the Aristolochia vine which threads through the Golden Orchids, Gloriosa and other creepers.

What’s so important about Aristolochia? Simply that the caterpillars of the spectacular Cairns Birdwing, Ornithoptera priamus euphorion, will eat nothing else, so a vine guarantees frequent visits from Australia’s largest butterfly. A couple of days ago I saw the first female of the season laying her eggs on it:

Cairns Birdwing butterfly, Ornithoptera priamus euphorion, laying an egg on Aristolochia vine
Cairns Birdwing butterfly laying an egg on Aristolochia vine. (Its leaves are seen most clearly on the left of the photo.)

These very large butterflies hover to feed and they hover – very briefly – to lay eggs too: one dab under a leaf and off she will go again. She will repeat the process dozens of times in a single session, then fly off to rest, feed and perhaps mate again.

The eggs hatch into dark spiny caterpillars which turn greyish as they grow to finger-size, then pupate in leaf-like cocoons before emerging, months later, as adults. Clicking here will take you to a collection of my older photos showing males, females, caterpillars and cocoons.

A word of warning from the Wet Tropics Management Authority: Growing the native rainforest vine Dutchman’s Pipe (Aristolochia tagala) will encourage regular visits by this impressive butterfly. However, beware of the exotic Dutchman’s Pipe (Aristolochia elegans) which is poisonous to the Cairns Birdwing caterpillars.

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