Friday, December 17, 2010

Rajah Brooke's Birdwing Butterfly

with a live male at the Kuala Lumpur Butterfly Park
Trogonoptera Brookiana or the Rajah Brooke's Birdwing was discovered by British Naturalist Alfred R. Wallace in 1855 which he subsequently named after his close friend, Sir James Brooke the White Rajah of Sarawak. Measuring some 6 inches of wingspan in some individuals, the Rajah Brooke's birdwing butterfly is known for its strong flight and iridescent green triangles (more marked in Males than Females) which decorate the butterflies' wings. Their bodies are black and they posses a velvety red "collar" around their necks giving them their Chinese name of "red headed swallowtail butterfly".

mounted female specimen

Male Butterfly on Ixora at Kuala Lumpur Butterfly Park
For many tourists to tropical countries like Malaysia, the presence of these butterflies are often a magnificent and wondrous sight and they can usually be seen in abundance at most butterfly farms around the country including, but not limited to, the Penang Butterfly Farm, Kuala Lumpur Butterfly Park and Cameron Highlands Butterfly Farm. Personally I have only on occasion seen these beautiful butterflies in the wild and even then they usually fly too high and too fast for me to have a proper look at them but I am told, in some places large congregations of male Rajah Brookes gather at rivers and streams to drink up the rich minerals in the soil. This activity is known as "puddling" and is not alltogether uncommon with many other butterfly species.

A rabble of Rajah Brooke males "puddling"

Although most butterflies get their required nutrients from the nectar of flowers, nectar often lack certain important nutrients that butterflies need for their reproductive cycle. Hence, "puddling" is a method with which male butterflies have adapted to absort potassium and minerals from the land and incorporate it into their sperm, increasing the viability of the eggs the female butterflies will lay after mating.
The larvae of the Rajah Brooke's Birdwing, like many other birdwing butterflies, feed on the vines of the venomous aristolchia. The larva is therefore able to incorporate these poisons into its system which the adult butterfly retains to protect it from predators. I tried finding pictures of the larvae but with my scanner down I suppose those will have to wait.

Butterfly Fairy inspired by the Rajah Brooke's Birdwing
A most beautiful butterfly, the Rajah Brooke's birdwing has often been the muse of many an artist, such as myself as well as the desire of many butterfly collecters. In Malaysia, the majesty and beauty of the Rajah Brooke's birdwing is recognised as such that it is the national butterfly of the country and therefore is often featured in many tourism campaigns and even on the local's identification tags (MyCard). However, because all birdwing butterflies have been listed under the CITES, trade in these magnificent butterfly species are now under restriction. Although they do not have many natural predators in the wild, it is perhaps not surprising to know that birdwing butterflies all over the world are threatened to extinction by human activity, specimen hunting in the wild being only just the tip of the iceberg with more pressing problems like deforestation and pollution ensuing. 

Let's hope that the combined effort of activists and conservationists from around the world can create a safe space for wildlife by preserving our rainforests and cutting back on pollution, before it is too late. 

1 comment:

celestial elf said...

Great Post :D
thought you might like my machinima film the butterfly's tale~
Bright Blessings
elf ~