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Digitisation Uncovers Rare Specimens That Highlight The Diversity Of Sex In Nature| Digital Collections Programme

Digitization enables us to understand exactly what we have in the collection. This can provide updated and accurate collection records, improve estimates for digitizing future collections and occasionally uncover the unexpected.

Digitizing the entire Birdwing butterfly collection, we now know in more detail what species we hold, and where and when they were collected and can share this with the world through the Museum’s Data Portal and Wikipedia.


As a group, Birdwings show a large degree of sexual dimorphism, meaning that males and females look substantially different from each other, beyond the differences in their sexual organs. This is most notable in the Ornithoptera species and is believed to function in mate recognition via the use of photoreceptors in the eye that respond to light.

The top two specimens above, of Victoria’s Birdwing, show the kind of dimorphism present in Ornithoptera species. The females are larger than the males and brown, with flecks of white and yellow. The males are smaller with vibrant green radiating into black and yellow tips on each wing. However, the third specimen displays both male and female characteristics through its wing size, pattern, and coloration. This is a rare condition known as a gynandromorph.

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