When people think of butterflies, they think of small and colorful creatures gliding along in nature. Really, it’s a bit of a picturesque image. So, butterflies aren’t usually thought of as being… large. People think of them as small insects, flitting about from flower to flower — it’s a dainty image.

But then, you hear about a whole species of butterflies known for being one of the largest, and you find out that there is one subspecies local to the Philippines. Then, you start to think, “It can’t be that large!” because, let’s face it, nothing is large here aside from basketball players and McDonald’s BFF fries.

Surprise! This butterfly is indeed large and is called the Magellan birdwing.

Larger than Life

Thanks to caretakers in Taiwan’s Orchid Island, we finally know the measurements of this particular butterfly. On average, the wingspan of a fully grown Magellan birdwing butterfly is fifteen centimeters long and ten centimeters wide, as reported online by Digital Taiwan! But see, that’s just an average male — and we haven’t touched on their bigger counterparts yet.

Now, the females can be visually differentiated from the males because these butterflies are sexually dimorphic — there are a number of physical differences between the two sexes (and not just the bits needed to breed). Kind of like how peacocks have a different color depending on gender, the Magellan birdwing butterflies’ males and females also differ, albeit in size. The females are actually larger than the males, which means that female Magellan birdwing butterflies can measure up to about twenty to twenty five centimeters wide.

Winged Wonder

The Magellan birdwing butterfly is named after, you guessed it, Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, as mentioned in a 2016 Facebook post by Habitat Bohol Butterfly and Botanical Garden. Luckily, unlike Magellan, the Magellan birdwing butterflies continue to live and thrive on Philippine land.

Thankfully, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) tracked these huge beauties.In the Philippines, they are found in Cebu (cough, Magellan landed there, cough), Bohol, Leyte, Marinduque, Masbate, and Samar, to name a few specific places. They can also be found in Luzon, Mindanao, and Mindoro.

Outside the Philippines, however, you can also find them in what is known as Orchid Island in Taiwan, or Lanyu, as is the actual name of the place.

“It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s a butterfly!”

The Magellan birdwing butterfly is one of the largest species of butterflies in the world. The birdwing butterflies are called thus, thanks to their amazing size and the way they fly, making it seem as if they soar like birds.

There are about 30 different species of birdwings residing in mainland Asia and throughout the Indonesian islands, and as far off as Australia and its surrounding islands. This was noted in a 2011 fact sheet by the Queensland Museum in Australia where what is considered the largest birdwing butterfly resides – but that’s for another time.

“I see wings of green…red and blue. Too”

Magellan birdwing butterflies are known for not only their size but also for the color of their large wings, which are said to be iridescent at certain angles.

In Taiwan’s Orchid Island, it was noted that their wings changed color depending on the angle from which it was viewed. Its normally bright yellow-colored hind wings would turn into a green, blue, or sometimes even red hue.

This appeared in Animal Scene magazine’s November 2018 issue.