Queen Alexandra’s birdwing (Ornithoptera alexandrae) is the largest butterfly in the world. The wingspan is of 180–210mm in females, and 170–190mm in males. Butterflies fly high during the day, visiting flowers, often high up in forest canopy, and feeding on nectar. The species is restricted to approximately 100 square kilomteres of coastal rainforest in SE Papua New Guinea and therefore is listed as endangered by the IUCN, completely restricting its sale. Its major threats are habitat destruction due to the ever encroaching oil palm and timber industries and low egg fecundity (a few tens of eggs per female). Some say that the best hope for conserving Queen Alexandra’s birdwing may be its commercial breeding in captivity.
This species was described by lord Walter Rothschild in 1907, who named it in honour of Queen Alexandra, the wife of King Edward VII of the UK. The Manchester Museum’s specimens were collected by the famous collector Albert S. Meek from Papua New Guinea, commissioned to go there by Lord Rothschild. The photographed specimens are from the Longsdon Papilionidae collection received by the Manchester Museum in 1937-1938 by bequest of David Longsdon. Most probably, these specimens were purchased by Longsdon from one of the London natural history dealers, who obtained them from A.S. Meek.