Top 10 big butterfly species and their description

Queen Alexandra's birdwing and the Goliath birdwing are the two largest butterflies on the planet. A female Queen Alexandra’s has a wingspan averaging 10 to 11 inches (25.4 to 27.9 cm), while a Goliath’s wingspan can reach 11 inches (27.9 cm).

Do giant butterflies exist?

Big species of butterflies can be found worldwide, from the US (Giant swallowtails) to Africa (African giant swallowtails) and South India (Southern birdwings). Most giant butterflies are birdwings belonging to the Trogonoptera, Troides, and Ornithoptera families, but there are also batwing butterflies belonging to the Atrophaneura family.

What is the largest butterfly in the world?

Queen Alexandra's birdwing
Queen Alexandra’s birdwing

Queen Alexandra’s birdwing (Ornithoptera alexandrae) is the world’s largest butterfly. It’s an endangered butterfly that lives in Papua New Guinea’s rainforests, the Oro Province.

This birdwing butterfly is sexually dimorphic, which means that males and females are noticeably different. Females are slightly bigger than males. Their wingspan is about 10 inches (25.4 cm), and they have three-inch (7.6 cm) bodies. The largest specimen has an almost 11-inch (27.3 cm) wingspan. Males’ wingspans can reach up to 9 inches (22.8 cm).

Males are brighter than females. They are emerald green and bright blue butterflies with large black stripes and small black veins on each wing. Females are brown and have white spots and triangles on their wings.

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This butterfly is diurnal (active during the day) and can fly high in the forests. Its lifespan is about three months. It doesn’t have many predators due to its size.

What is the second biggest butterfly in the world?

Goliath birdwing
Goliath birdwing

The second biggest butterfly on the planet is the Goliath birdwing (Ornithoptera goliath). It can be found in Indonesia and New Guinea.

This butterfly’s wingspread ranges from 10 to 11 inches (25.4 to 27.9 cm). Like Queen Alexandra’s birdwings, Goliath birdwings are sexually dimorphic. However, the difference is more noticeable in color than size.

The males’ forewings are green with black borders, a single big black line across the wings, and a couple of smaller black veins near the top. Their hindwings are orange with black edges, bright green veins, and three green spots on each wing.

Females have almost entirely dark brown forewings with a few tiny yellow spots. Each hindwing has a large brown pattern where it’s connected to the forewing, and then it ranges from dark to bright yellow with whitish veins separating six brown spots.

The Goliath birdwing is a diurnal butterfly. It lives up to 12 months. The adults have no known natural enemies.

Top 10 big butterflies: taxonomy, description, habitats

Aside from the two world’s biggest butterflies, there are many more remarkable large butterflies. These are:

  • African giant swallowtail
  • Buru opalescent birdwing
  • Magellan birdwing
  • Miranda birdwing
  • Blue morpho
  • The British swallowtail
  • Red-spotted purple
  • Great spangled fritillary

African giant swallowtail (Papilio antimachus)

African giant swallowtail
African giant swallowtail

The African giant swallowtail is the largest butterfly in Africa. It inhabits the tropical rainforests of west and central Africa. It’s widely distributed in Angola, Cameroon, Congo Republic, Gabon, and the following countries:

  • Central African Republic
  • Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • Ghana
  • Ivory Coast
  • Liberia
  • Nigeria
  • Sierra Leone

An African giant swallowtail’s wingspan ranges between 7.1 and 9.1 inches (18 to 23 cm). It’s characterized by long, narrow wings, orange and brown colors, dark hindwing edges, and black spots and markings on all wings.

Buru Opalescent Birdwing (Troides prattorum)

Buru opalescent birdwing
Buru opalescent birdwing

The Buru opalescent birdwing butterfly is native to Buru, Indonesia. It has a wingspan of up to 7.9 inches (20 cm).

A Buru opalescent birdwing’s forewings are black with white veins. Its hindwings are yellow and have black lines and edges. Buru opalescent birdwings are vulnerable due to habitat loss and are rarely seen, as they fly at about 4,265 to 5,250 feet (1,300 to 1,600 meters).

Magellan Birdwing (Troides magellanus)

Magellan Birdwing
Magellan Birdwing

This butterfly inhabits the Philippines and Orchid Island, Taiwan. With its 7.1 inches (18 cm) wingspread, it’s among the top 10 largest butterflies in the world.

Although Buru opalescent birdwings and Magellan birdwings can look alike, at first sight, they live in different parts of the world. Plus, Magellan birdwings have iridescent wings, so they appear emerald and bright blue and yellow at some angles due to light refraction.

Moreover, they’re sexually dimorphic. Females are bigger than males and dark brown to black with white shading around the veins on their forewings.

Miranda Birdwing (Troides Miranda)

Miranda Birdwing
Miranda birdwing

The Miranda birdwing can be found in the tropical rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra. Its wingspan averages about 6.6 inches (17 cm).

This butterfly’s wings are dark brown. Its hindwings are typically darker than its forewings. The forewings have thin black veins shaded with faded yellow, while the hindwings have thicker black lines and brighter yellow to light green patterns around them.

Blue Morpho (Morpho peleides)

Blue Morpho
Blue Morpho

The Blue morpho or Morpho butterfly is one of the largest butterflies in Costa Rica and the world. Its typical habitat is a tropical forest, and it can be found in Latin America.

This butterfly’s wingspread ranges from 5 to 8 inches (12.7 to 20 cm). Its wings are bright blue and have black borders with white spots. The undersides of its wings are dark brown with numerous eyespots.

Sexual dimorphism is present in this butterfly species. Males have broader and brighter wings than females.

Despite its size, the Morpho butterfly has significant natural enemies, including birds and various insects. Its average lifespan is almost 4 months.

The British swallowtail (Papilio machaon britannicus)

The British swallowtail
The British swallowtail

The British swallowtail is a rare subspecies of the Old World swallowtail butterfly (Papilio machaon) that lives in the Norfolk Broads, UK. This is the largest native British butterfly. It has a wingspan of up to 3.54 inches (9 cm) and is considered one of the most beautiful butterflies in the UK.

The British swallowtail females are slightly larger than males. There are no notable differences between males’ and females’ coloring. They both have a yellow base on all wings with black markings and veins on the forewings. Their hindwings have elongated tails as well as one red and six dark blue eyespots.

Red-spotted Purple (Limenitis arthemis astyanax)

Red-spotted Purple
Red-spotted Purple

The Red-spotted purple is a colorful butterfly that can be found across North America. Its habitats include:

  • Florida
  • Minnesota
  • New Hampshire
  • Texas

A Red-spotted purple butterfly’s wingspread can reach three and a half inches (8.8 cm). This butterfly’s wings are shiny blue with black and orange-brownish areas. The edges of its wings are covered with rows of black, light blue, and white lines.

Great Spangled Fritillary (Speyeria cybele)

Great Spangled Fritillary
Great Spangled Fritillary

Great spangled fritillaries inhabit open and sunny areas as well as wetlands across North America. They can be found in a wide range of areas, such as:

  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Canada
  • New Mexico
  • Georgia

The Great spangled fritillary is the biggest of the fritillary butterflies. Its wingspan averages from two and a half to three and a half inches (6.3 to 8.8 cm).

This butterfly species is sexually dimorphic. Males have tan to orange forewings and bright orange hindwings. All wings are marked by black lines, thinner veins, and spots. Females are tawny and have white patterns with brown veins and dark spots on their wings.

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