IUCN Red List Conservation Status: Endangered
Papilio moerneri has no common name. It is an extremely rare species known only from New Ireland, although it may occur in unexplored regions of other islands in the Bismarck Archipelago (Papua New Guinea). The butterfly has not been seen since 1924 and surveys are needed to assess its present range. If it could be found and its conservation assured, it has great potential for captive breeding.
This elusive butterfly in the laglaizei group has only been recorded from the male which has a wingspan of about 108 mm (3, 7) (Plate 7.1). The upper forewing ground colour is black with a dark blue sheen to all but the costal and outer margins. A broad, relatively straight, grey-green diagonal band runs from the inner margin to the middle of the cell apex (1, 3). The upper hindwing upper surface is all black with a dark blue sheen and a very short tail (1,3). The lower forewing is black with a yellow submarginal band that curves inwards near the apex and crosses the subapical region to the costal margin (1,3). The lower hindwing is grey-yellow with a broad, black discal band, black veins, and a wavy line inside the outer margin. There is also an orange-yellow streak in the abdominal region (1,3).
Papilio moerneri is only known from New Ireland in the Bismarck Archipelago (Papua New Guinea), north-east of mainland Papua New Guinea. The species may also occur on the nearby islands of New Britain, and New Hanover, large areas of which are still unstudied (5) and very poorly known for butterflies. In 1939 Bang-Haas described a race of P. moerneri from New Britain and called it mayrhoferi, but it has not been seen since (2).
Habitat and Ecology
Very little is known about the biology and habitat of Papilio moerneri. In addition to the 1919 and 1924 specimens mentioned by D’Abrera (3), Straatman notes that there is one specimen in the Australian National Collection, Canberra, and that a few more were taken in 1968 (10). It has not been reported by lepidopterists who have visited the region in more recent years (5,6,8,9). The natural vegetation of the Bismarck Archipelago is rain forest, much of it in hilly or mountainous country, and the butterfly is presumed to inhabit these forests. Members of the laglaizei group are mimetic of Uraniidae (7). In other species the larvae are black with orange tubercles or have orange segmental bands and yellow spots (7). The foodplant is unknown, possibly lauraceous (7), and in other members of the group the eggs are laid in large masses and the larvae are gregarious (10).
The distribution of P. moerneri is too poorly known to be sure of the major threats to its survival. Its extreme rarity even early in this century implies that timber exploitation and other forms of habitat destruction may not be a prime threat. Nevertheless, logging is now extensive in New Ireland and must represent an encroachment on what is almost certainly a denizen of the primary forest. The Bismarck Archipelago, with recently latent but still active volcanic phenomena, has some highly fertile soils and the islands are responsible for most of the agricultural production of the country (4). Many parts of New Britain and New Ireland have been severely altered (9).
A survey of potential Papilio moerneri habitat is needed in order to assess its conservation status thoroughly. The Whiteman Range and the high interior of the Gazelle Peninsula on New Britain, and the south-eastern lobe of New Ireland, have wilderness areas which may reward a careful search (9). This species is certainly one of the rarest and least known of all Papua New Guinea Papilionidae and would be worthy of international conservation funding. Once re-located, proposals for its management and protection would be required. Once its conservation is assured there would be great potential for farming, and studies of foodplants and other requirements would be quickly repaid. World demand for captive-bred specimens of this attractive but little-known species would certainly be high, without threatening their wild populations.
- Aurivillius, C. (1919). Eine neue Papilio-Art. Entomologisk Tidskrift 1919: 177-178.
- Bang-Haas,O.(1939).Neubeschreibungen und Berichtigungen der Exotischen Macrolepidopteren fauna II. Entomologische Zeiischrift 52(39): 301-302.
- D’Abrera, B. (1971). Butterflies of the Australian Region. Lansdowne Press, Melbourne. 415 pp.
- FAO/UNEP (1981). Tropical Forest Resources Assessment Project. Forest Resources of Tropical Asia. FAO, Rome, 475 pp.
- Fenner, T.L. (1983). In litt., 15 March.
- Hutton, A.F. (1983). In litt.,2H March.
- Munroe, E. (1961). The classification of the Papilionidae (Lepidoptera). Canadian Entomologist Supplement 17: 1-51.
- Parsons, M.J. (1983). In litt.,2 March.
- Pyle, R.M. and Hughes, S.A. (1978). Conservation and utilisation of the insect resources of Papua New Guinea. Report of a consultancy to the Wildlife Branch, Dept. of Nature Resources, Independent State of Papua New Guinea. 157 pp. unpublished.
- Straatman, R. (1975). Notes on the biologies of Papilio laglaizei and P. toboroi (Papilionidae). Journal of the Lepidopterists’ Society 29: 180-187.
This page has been transcribed and edited, with permission, from Threatened Swallowtail Butterflies of the World: the IUCN Red Data Book by N.M. Collins & M.G. Morris. Whilst providing a sound baseline of information, it is in need of updating. The full volume, with references, may be downloaded from the IUCN Library System.