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Birds? No, butterflies!

Ornithoptera priamus poseidon - male, Australie
Credit: Insectarium de Montréal (André Sarrazin)
Ornithoptera priamus poseidon - male, Australie
Birds? No, butterflies!

The tropics are known for their spectacular butterfly species. Among these, the Ornithoptera are the most beautiful, the biggest and the most sought-after on the planet.

The most beautiful butterflies in the world

Ornithoptera get their name from the Greek ornithos, for bird, and pteron, for wings. They’re commonly known as birdwings because of the great size of their wings, but also because they very often fly at the height of rainforest treetops. It’s not surprising, then, that early naturalists thought they were seeing birds, when in fact it was giant butterflies flying way up near the canopy.

These butterflies are sought not only for reasons of their great size but also because of their magnificent coloring, which ranges from green to black by way of gold, orange and blue. Not to mention that the shape of their wings is extraordinary.

Most of the species show a high degree of sexual dimorphism. The male is frequently more highly colored, whereas the wingspan of the female is greater, and her coloring darker.

Protected by breeding

Ornithoptera can be found in Southeast Asia as well as in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Australia and the Salomon Islands. All species are protected by CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species). Hence, breeding programs have been established in Papua New Guinea, the Philippines and Australia.

During Butterflies Go Free you can see magnificent Troides that come from the Philippines. More recently we had a chance to present some Ornithoptera priamus poseidon from a breeding farm in Australia. The big caterpillars are raised on Aristolochia sp., which is the host plant for a number of species.

The main cause of certain species coming down in numbers is loss of their habitat. But breeding in captivity enables us to meet the demand of museums and collectors. Thanks to them, we have a better understanding of the life cycle of these incredible butterflies. And we’re in a better position to protect them and make it possible for future generations to admire these winged masterpieces.

Until the end of April, an opportunity to feel good, with Butterflies Go Free. Hundreds of multicolored butterflies darting around inside the Botanical Garden’s Main Exhibition Greenhouse...an invitation to unwind!

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