Buterflies of the Deep South

The Official Butterfly of the Deep South Region is the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Photo courtesy of Anne Leonard © 2013

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Lepidoptera
Family: Papilionidae
Genus: Papilio glaucus

Eastern Tiger Swallowtails are a species of swallowtail butterflies native to North America. They are one of the biggest (with a wingspan of 3 5/8 to 6 ½ inches) and most familiar butterflies in the eastern United States. They can be found in North America east of the Rocky Mountains from Ontario south to the Gulf coast. Their habitat is deciduous woodlands along streams, rivers and swamps, including parks and neighborhoods, where they feed on the nectar of wild and garden flowers from spring through fall.

The males are yellow with four black stripes on their yellow forewings. Interestingly, the females come in two color schemes, or morphs; light and dark. The light female is yellow like the male but with much more blue scaling on her hind-wings. The darker female is almost completely black or dark gray with yellow spots on the rear of her fore-wings and predominantly blue hind-wings.

Females lay single green colored eggs on the leaves of woody host plants, mainly tulip trees (Liriodendron tulipifera) and wild black cherry (Prunus serotina). They can produce up to three broods per year. The caterpillar emerges wearing a dark brown and white camouflage (to resemble bird droppings) but soon becomes bright green with a swollen thorax and faint blue dots on its abdominal segments. It also has black-and-yellow false eyespots to ward off curious predators, and will rear up and extend two red horns from its osmeterium if pestered, resembling a Hognose snake. The display is accompanied by the secretion of a foul-smelling odor.

After about two weeks the now two inch larva turns into a pupa by wrapping itself into a leaf and securing it with silk. At this stage, the pupa is called a chrysalis. Over the next several weeks, it will transform into a butterfly and emerge ready to take flight. The entire process of development -from egg to butterfly- only takes a little over a month. The new adult butterfly will sip nectar from many favorite flowers including honeysuckle, lilac, black-eyed susans and the appropriately named butterfly bush. They feed with their wings outstretched, not continuously fluttering.

Eastern tiger swallowtails are usually loners, although they can be avid mud-puddlers with sometimes dozens gathering at the same small puddle, jostling for position. They have a high somewhat gliding flight. Males will fly from place to place looking for a mate, frequenting areas with host plants where the females will be more numerous. Danger comes in the form of many bird predators which will eat the butterflies as well as raccoons, squirrels and opossums that enjoy dining on the caterpillars. Even surviving such perils, tiger swallow tails only live about one month.

It is good to note that this beautiful butterfly is not on any endangered list and should be abundant in our fields and gardens for many years to come.

Anne Leonard, Deep South Butterfly Chairman

Male Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (almost no blue on the hind wings)
Dark morph female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Ode to a Butterfly

A butterfly's a curious thing
Not much body, but plenty of wing.
And for protection, it's got no sting.
A butterfly's a curious thing.

Is there pattern in its random flight?
With target flowers on which to light
And territories over which to fight?
Dueling butterflies would be quite a sight.

Just how it fits into Nature's plan
I cannot say that I understand
What is the job of this painted fan?
It cannot be just, to delight man.

It doesn't really matter why.
In the garden when the sun is high
I think each time as one flutters by
A wonderful gift is the butterfly.

Anne Leonard


Written by:  Cindy Hintz A Former Deep South Region Butterflly Chairman  
Download your copy of the above information in PDF format to share with your club members

Download your copy of the above information in PDF format to share with your club members

2 pages

Allison Ashmore, Chairman
2741 Sweethome Road
Grenada, MS 38901