A very hungry caterpillar


Larvae of the Richmond birdwing butterfly are born ravenous.


A caterpillar of the Richmond birding butterfly.
A caterpillar of the Richmond birding butterfly.
Pawel Zborowski / CSIRO

The Richmond birdwing butterfly (Ornithoptera richmondi) is a species that is found across north-east Australia, though habitat loss means that its range is growing more limited. Adults of the species are normally found only in or near rainforest but on rare occasions they have been spotted in drier conditions.

The butterfly lays its eggs almost exclusively on a particular kind of vine – known, for this reason, as Richmond birdwing butterfly vine (Pararistolochia praevenosa) – which has leaves that are toxic to most predators. When hatched, the caterpillars need a lot to eat: each one can require the equivalent of a 10-year-old vine to fatten itself up enough to wrap itself in a cocoon and transform into an adult butterfly.


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