India’s Largest Butterfly

Written by Nilani Thiyagarajah
Published: September 20, 2022
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Insects are not the favorite animal of many people on this planet. However, even a lot of people who don’t like insects do like butterflies. Butterflies are insects, but because they are so unique-looking and colorful, many people enjoy seeing them when they would hate seeing any other insect.

Since most people find butterflies to be beautiful, it stands to reason that the largest butterfly in any location would be a very intriguing topic.

For example, we can look at India, which people know for its warm, tropical climate, which makes it home to many interesting flora and fauna. So what’s India’s largest butterfly? Keep reading to find out!

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Characteristics of Butterflies

giant swallowtail butterfly

A butterfly is an insect that belongs to the order



©Kevin Collison/

A butterfly is an adult insect that belongs to an order we know as Lepidoptera. Moths are also a part of this order. The insects in this group have wings that contain thousands of tiny overlapping scales, which form colorful designs that are unique to every species. This is what many people think makes butterflies so beautiful.

Butterflies, like any other insect, have six legs, along with a head, thorax, and abdomen. Additionally, they have an exoskeleton and two antennae.

The Life Cycle and Diet of a Butterfly

During the life cycle of a butterfly, it undergoes a process known as a metamorphosis. During this process, it transforms from a caterpillar to an adult butterfly.

The first stage in this life cycle is the egg. The adult female butterfly attaches her eggs to plants, which will also be good food sources for the larvae when they hatch. Once it hatches, the larva is a caterpillar.

When the insect is a caterpillar, what it does most of the time is eat. Its body grows as it eats constantly. The caterpillar sheds its exoskeleton over and over as it grows in a process called molting.

Then, the caterpillar enters the pupa stage. It attaches itself to some surface, and the exoskeleton will split open to reveal the chrysalis. This hangs down until the transformation is complete.

Within the shell of the chrysalis, the caterpillar’s structure is actually breaking down and rearranging into the body of the adult butterfly. The pupa gets all of its energy from the food that it consumed as a larva. Once the casing of the chrysalis breaks open, the adult butterfly emerges.

For the most part, caterpillars eat plants. They generally don’t move around a lot. Their mother laid her eggs in a particular spot because she knew instinctively that they would be able to find the food they needed there. 

The diet of an adult butterfly is very different from that of a caterpillar. Butterflies generally drink through a tube-like structure known as a proboscis. Their preferred food is flower nectar, but they can also drink liquids from trees, rotting fruit, and animal waste. 

How Butterflies Are Measured

When thinking about the largest specimen of any animal, there are so many ways we can measure them. Most animals are measured by weight in order to determine if they are the largest.

However, this is not the case for butterflies. The primary measurement that scientists tend to use with butterflies is the wingspan. This is the measurement of the length between the base and the tip of the butterfly’s wing. It is what scientists used to determine which butterfly was the largest in India.

India’s Largest Butterfly

Golden Birdwing

India’s largest butterfly is a female golden birdwing with a wingspan of 7.6 inches.

© Visual Journeys

As far as anyone knows at this time, India’s largest butterfly is a member of the golden birdwing species (Troides aeacus), with a wingspan of 7.6 inches, or 194 millimeters.

The specimen that achieved this title was found in 2020 and broke a record that had been held by another butterfly for 88 years. This was a female butterfly recorded from Didihat in Uttarakhand. The male of the species, who was smaller (wingspan of 4.2 inches, or 106 millimeters), was also measured at Wankhar Butterfly Museum in Shillong, Meghalaya.

The golden birdwing lives in Northern India, in addition to China, Nepal, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Taiwan, Japan, Indonesia, Cambodia, and peninsular Malaysia.

Females of this species are generally larger than males, and they have black or dark brown wings. Males have black forewings, white patterns bordering their veins, and bright yellow hindwings. Typically, this butterfly has a black head, abdomen, and thorax. There are small red patches on the thorax and some yellow coloring on the abdomen.

India’s Second Largest Butterfly

Southern Birdwing

A southern birdwing with a 7.5-inch wingspan was India’s largest butterfly for 88 years.


Before the golden birdwing was found to truly be the largest butterfly in India, another butterfly held this title for 88 years. The creature who held this honor for so long was the southern birdwing butterfly (Troides minos). Brigadier William Harry Evans, who was a British military officer and lepidopterist, documented the existence of this butterfly in 1932.

The record-breaking golden birdwing was only a little bit larger than the previous record holder, who had a wingspan of 7.5 inches, or 190 millimeters.

Generally, the southern birdwing, also known as the Sahyadri birdwing, has a wingspan between 140 and 190 millimeters. This butterfly typically resides in different types of forests, such as lowland evergreen forests close to the coast and mixed deciduous forests. Some also reside in agricultural fields.

The upper forewing in the adult butterfly is glossy and black with white borders around the veins. The hindwings are golden yellow, with black around the veins, black spots, and black borders. There are also rows of large triangular black spots on the hindwings of these butterflies.

In female butterflies, there are noticeable gray-white stripes on the veins in the forewings. These butterflies are generally active in the early morning hours. They fly slowly, and they usually fly above the trees. Southern birdwings only eat honey. They are native animals of India and Sri Lanka.

At one point, it was the common belief that the southern birdwing was a subspecies of the common birdwing (Troides helena). However, it is now recognized as a species on its own.

How India’s Record-Breaking Butterflies Compare to Others

The largest butterflies in India are pretty large when you consider that the average butterfly has a wingspan of about 1.2 inches, or 30 millimeters.

However, there are larger butterflies in the world. The two largest butterflies ever recorded in India are birdwings, and birdwings are the largest butterflies in the world as a group.

The largest butterfly in the world is the Queen Alexandra’s birdwing. This butterfly was discovered in 1906 in Papua New Guinea. The female of the species can have a wingspan of up to 11 inches, or 280 millimeters.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Media Marketing/

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