The World of Birdwing Butterflies



IUCN conservation status category: VULNERABLE.

It was during a visit to Bacan Island in 1859 that Alfred Russell Wallace first observed a female of Ornithoptera croesus. It took, however, as much as three months before he finally managed to catch the first specimen, a male. His triumph was a direct result of his identification of shrubs with yellow flowers, Mussaenda, to be attractive to the imagoes of croesus.

Mr. Wallace's accounts of his capture is well known and has been published again later by several authors:

"During my first walk into the forest, I had seen sitting on a leaf out of reach, an immense butterfly of a dark colour marked with white and yellow. I could not capture it as it flew away high up in the forest, but I at once saw that it was a female of a new species of Ornithoptera, the pride of the Eastern Tropics. I was very eager to get it and to find the male, which in this genus is always of extreme beauty. During the two succeeding months I only saw it once again, and shortly afterwards I saw the male flying high in the air at the mining village. I had begun to despair of ever getting a specimen, as it seemed so rare and wild; till one day, about the beginning of January, I found a beautiful shrub with large leafy bracts and yellow flowers, a species of Mussaenda, and saw one of these noble creatures hovering over it, but it was too quick for me and flew away. The next day I went again to the same shrub and succeeding in catching a female, and the day after a fine male. I found it to be as I had expected, a perfectly new and most magnificent species, and one of the most gorgeously butterflies in the world. Fine specimens of the male are more than seven inches across the wings, which are velvety black and fiery orange, the latter colour replacing the green of the allied species. The beauty and brilliance of this insect are indescribable, and none but a naturalist can understand the intense excitement I experienced when I at length captured it. On taking it out of my net and opening the glorious wings, my heart began to beat violently, the blood rushed to my head, and I felt much more like fainting than I have done when in apprehension of immediate death!

I had decided to return to Ternate in a week or two, but this grand capture determined me to stay until obtained a good series of this new butterfly which I have since named Ornithoptera croesus.

I thus was able to bring away with me more than a hundred of both sexes, including perhaps twenty very fine males, though not more than five or six that were absolutely perfect".

O. croesus is a low-land species, occurring in swamps and wet places. According to Smiet (1982) as much as 90% of all forests in the northern and central Moluccas was under concession to large-scale commercial logging operations. Additional threats to croesus comes from large-scale use of insecticides against mosquitoes.

Although it is believed that croesus - at least subspecies croesus and lydius - are more numerous in nature than what early collectors reported, there is no doubt that croesus is under a continued threat from human activities.

To view the images of this species, click on the name of the species.
To go direct to the images
of a specific subspecies, click on the name of the subspecies.
To go direct to the image of a specific form, click on the name of the form.

O.croesus toeantei

Auctor: Parrott & Schmid, 1984
Syn.: O. croesus lydius ff. morotaiensis Sumiyoshi, 1989
Distribution: Morotai Is.
Etymology: Named after I.Toeante who supplied the first specimens (ex pupae, 
elevation ca 800 m).
Notes: von Knötgen (1997) regarded O.croesus toeantei to be a
f.loc. of O.croesus lydius.
Described forms:
mf. carinae Schäffler, 2001
  ff. agatheae Deslisle & Sclavo, 2008

O.croesus croesus

Auctor: Wallace, 1859
Syn: sananaensis Tsukada & Nishiyama, 1980
Distribution: Bacan Is.
Etymology: Crösus/Kroisos was a wealthy mythological king (ref: croesus' gold spots).
Notes: The taxon sananaensis was described as a new ssp from Sanana Is. based on a single
  specimen (a female). It has always been regarded as a doubtful description, as no other specimens of croesus  have been found in Sanana Is. and no Ornithoptera has ever been found West of Weber's line. In his Revision of the Genus Ornithoptera :  56, Mr Gilles Deslisle explains the true story behind the holotype. According to entomologist Greg Watson, the origin of the specimen was based on a joke by a commercial dealer (for the whole story, see Deslisle's paper).
Described forms:
mf. croesus Wallace, 1859
mf. lydoides Fruhstorfer, 1900

O.croesus helios

Auctor: Kobayashi & Hayami, 1992
Distribution: Kasiruta Is.
Etymology: Helios = sun
Notes: Ohya (1995) regarded O.croesus helios to be a f. of O.croesus
croesus. von Knötgen (1997) regarded O.croesus helios to be
a f.loc. of O.croesus croesus.
Matsuka (2001) treated helios as a synonym of O.croesus croesus.
Described forms:

O.croesus wallacei

Auctor: Deslisle, 1991
Distribution: Mandioli (= "Majoli" Is.)
Etymology: Named after explorer Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913),
who, in 1859, collected the first specimens of O.croesus in Bacan Island.
Notes: Ohya (1995) and von Knötgen (1997) regarded O.croesus wallacei
to be a f.loc. of O.croesus croesus.
Matsuka (2001) treated wallacei as a synonym of O.croesus croesus.
Described forms:
mf. biaureomaculata Schäffler, 2001
  mf. andreae Schäffler, 2001

O.croesus lydius

Auctor: Felder, 1865
Syn.: lydius Felder, 1864 (plates; nom. nud.)
Syn.: croesus f.loc. 'a' Wallace, 1865
Distribution: Halmahera Is., Ternate Is., Tidore Is., Doi Is.
Described forms:
mf. lydius Felder, 1865 (= flammeus Niepelt, 1931)
mf. berchmansi van den Bergh, 1928
mf. nigra van den Bergh, 1928 (= nigrocincta Rousseau-Decelle, 1935)
mf. boutoni Haugum & Low, 1979
mf. watsoni Haugum & Low, 1981
mf. olivei Parrott & Deslisle, 1987
mf. pannis Parrott & Deslisle, 1987
mf. perroni Deslisle & Sclavo, 2008
mf. laplantei Deslisle & Sclavo, 2008
ff. lydius Felder, 1865
ff. nudus Parrott & Deslisle, 1987
ff. fusca Sumiyoshi, 1989
ff. jeanne-d'arcae Deslisle, 1996
  ff. reducta Goussey, 2005

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