Chin’s Butterfly Gallery
Rajah Brooke's Birdwing Rajah Brooke's Birdwing The Malay Archipelago by A.R. Wallace
Rajah Brooke's Birdwing puddling and feeding on nectar. A. R. Wallace's "The Malay Archipelago".
Malaysia’s living icon on wings
THE RAJAH BROOKE'S BIRDWING is undoubtedly one of Malaysia's most renowed creatures. This butterfly is an icon used to flaunt the country's rich, tropical fauna and flora, and its images (photos or drawings) are often found on tourism posters and pamphlets. This creature had a good head start in its flight to fame when British naturalist A.R. Wallace wrote this beautiful description in his book "The Malay Archipelago" (first published in 1869).
 "My collection of butterflies was not large; but I obtained some rare and very handsome insects, the most remarkable being the Ornithoptera Brookeana, one of the most elegant species known. This beautiful creature has very long and pointed wings, almost resembling a sphinx moth in shape. It is deep velvety black, with a curved band of spots of a brilliant metallic-green colour extending across the wings from tip to tip, each spot being shaped exactly like a small triangular feather, and having very much the same effect of a row of the wing coverts of the Mexican trogon laid upon a black velvet. The only other marks are a broad neck-collar of vivid crimson, and a few delicate white touches on the outer margins of the hind wings. This species, which was then quite new and which I named after Sir James Brooke, was very rare. It was seen occasionally flying swiftly in the clearings, and now and then settling for an instant at puddles and muddy places, so that I only succeeded in capturing two or three specimens. In some other parts of the country I was assured it was abundant, and a good many specimens have been sent to England; but as yet all have been males, and we are quite unable to conjecture what the females may be like, owing to the extreme isolation of the species. and its want of close affinity to any other known insect."
 Wallace added this footnote in the tenth edition of his book which was published 21 years after the first edition appeared, "Females have since been captured in some plenty. They
Rajah Brooke's Birdwing, female
A female Rajah Brooke's Birdwing. Copyright © Chin Fah Shin.

resemble the male, but have more white and less brilliant colours." In the preface to the tenth edition, Wallace informed that his complete collections of birds and butterflies were now with the British Museum (of Natural History).
 This butterfly had a few changes to its generic name since Wallace named it Ornithoptera Brookeana for the White Rajah of Sarawak at that time. It was Trogonoptera, then Troides, and recently back to Trogonoptera.
 There are three subspecies of this birdwing. The subspecies found in Peninsular Malaysia is albescens, and that found in Borneo is trogon (which Wallace collected). A third and less brilliantly coloured subspecies mollumar is confined to swampy forest land in Johore, Pahang and Trengganu.
 My copy of "The Malay Archipelago" is a 1983 unabridged reprint of the last revised edition, i.e. the tenth. The reprint was published by Graham Brash (Pte) Ltd of Singapore (ISBN 9971 947 50 1). ~ Chin Fah Shin, May 10, 2018.