Butterfly Season is Here: The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly
For one of my teenage birthdays, I was given an insect and butterfly catching kit that came with a fine-meshed insect net and other items for euthanizing and mounting specimens in display frames.
With my net in hand, I ventured forth to hunt my butterfly prey. I caught a couple of butterflies and perhaps a beetle to two, and with the help of an older sibling, completed the process of “insect euthanasia” and mounted them in a display frame using small pins.
The butterfly and bug display hung on my bedroom wall for about a year, but I lost interest in continuing this hobby after the one display frame that came with the kit was filled. Unlike both my grandfathers, who were avid hunters with mounted trophies of deer and pheasant, my hunting prowess never developed beyond bugs and butterflies.
I was reminded of this the other day when two beautiful eastern tiger swallowtail butterflies were circling one of my wife’s flower gardens. With summer flowers in full bloom, both butterflies were flitting around the garden and gently alighting on the colorful blooms to feed on the nectar. I don’t recall if my teenage collection had a tiger swallowtail butterfly.
It is that time of year when we see butterflies of all sorts, so I want to share information about the eastern tiger swallowtail from a very useful on-line source called Butterflies and Moths of North America. This website details an ambitious effort to collect, store, and share species information and occurrence data. People participate in this organization by taking and submitting photographs of butterflies, moths and caterpillars. Here is a link to the website: https://www.butterfliesandmoths.org/
The eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly is easy to spot due to its size, with a wingspan of 2 1/2 to 4 1/2 inches and beautiful yellow color with black tiger stripes. The male is yellow with dark stripes and the female has 2 forms, yellow like the male and the other, black with shadows of dark stripes.
The hindwing of both female forms has striking blue chevrons and an iridescent blue wash over parts of the interior hindwing. The upper part of the hindwing has a prominent orange spot.
The life history of the eastern tiger swallowtail includes up to two broods in their northern range and up to three broods in their southern range. The female lays eggs singly on host leaves.
After hatching, the caterpillars eat leaves and rest on silken mats on the upper surface of leaves and then the chrysalids overwinter till spring when they emerge as butterflies.
The caterpillars prefer leaves of various plants including wild cherry, magnolia, basswood, tulip tree, birch, ash, cottonwood, and willow.
The butterflies prefer flower nectar from a variety of plants including wild cherry and lilac. Milkweed and Joe-Pye weed are favorites in the summer months.
Eastern swallowtails can be found in eastern north America from Ontario south to the Gulf coast, west to the Colorado plains and central Texas.
One of the interesting facts about the eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly is that it is one of over 550 species of swallowtail butterflies (family of Papilionidae). Most are tropical but members of the Papilionidae family inhabit every continent except Antarctica.
It is the forked appearance of the hindwings that gives it the “swallowtail” name.
My butterfly catching days are long over. I prefer to just watch and observe. Next time I see an eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly I’ll look closely to see if it is a male or a female. I’ll also look to see if the female has the unique black coloring. Perhaps If I can get a picture I’ll submit it to the Butterflies and Moths website and record the location, date, and time of the viewing. That picture is all the trophy I need.
We live in a beautiful region called The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor. It’s summer! Get outdoors, explore, and look for butterflies. I hope you’ll join me in caring for, enjoying, and passing on this beautiful place we call home.
Bill Reid is the Chief Ranger of The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor and has lived in the region for more than 30 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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