07 September, 2011

Swallowtails and Mimics in the Garden

Back in August I featured the gorgeous Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly, Papilio glaucus.  They have been more numerous this summer than I recall them being in past years.  A result of global climate change?  I don't know, but it surely could be.  I can't resist posting a few more photos of these beauties.
A female with the blue on the hindwing that males lack.
She is focused on nectaring on purple coneflower.  The blue shows on the upper and lower hindwing.
The 2 shots below are views of the underside and topside of an individual butterfly that looks quite dark.
It is a little tattered, but still most obviously a swallowtail of some sort.
Turns out this is a female dark phase of the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail,  Papilio glaucus.
It seems that there are only female dark phase specimens, there are no male dark phase individuals.  When viewed from the right angle, you can see hints of the yellow stripes on the forewings.  These can be confused with the Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes), except the blue on the black swallowtail is almost fused into 1 large blotch.  

Below is another dark swallowtail.  It is the Giant Swallowtail (cresphontes).  
Not very colorful from above, but the underside makes up for it.
I was not able to get a shot of the underside, but if you follow the link above, you can see that the underside is more colorful.  These are the largest butterflies in North America.

What about the underside of the dark phase Eastern Tiger Swallowtail?  You can see some nice orange spots along with some yellow and blue on the dark background.

This one is missing one tail and other pieces, too.  Amazing how well they can fly when tattered like this! 
The butterfly below also has orange and blue on a dark background.  But this one, a Red-Spotted Purple, Limenitis arthemis astyanax,  lacks tails.  This is a subspecies of a White Admiral and can hybridize with White Admirals.  It is considered a mimic of the toxic Pipevine Swallowtail.  
This one was so intent on drinking on the damp mulch I had uncovered while working on the garden path that it allowed me to move a piece of mulch that was stuck to its wing without even a flick of an antenna!
With its wings open, it is easy to see how worn it is.  Don't you love that blue iridescence of the hindwing?  I wonder if the blue looks more purple and the orange more red in fresh specimens?


  1. Interesting and well illustrated stuff Wilma, such an exotic butterfly.
    We have a tiny population of Swallowtails here in the UK - Papilio machaon. The area it appears in is no more than a pin prick on the UK map and is in the Norfolk Broads on the east coast. Its caterpillars only feed on only one plant, the Milk Parsley, which makes life even harder for the colony.

  2. Lovely and informative post Wilma. Nothing that exotic around here ... regretfully.

  3. Lovely beauties Wilma.
    There doesn't seem so many butterflies around here this year.

  4. You have shot some really special images here Wilma.

  5. Derek - I looked up P. macheon and it is a beauty with a distinct red eyespot on the hindwing. Hope it hangs on Norfolk; it would be a shame to lose it.

    Frank - the grass is always greener ..., eh? I am always envious of the butterflies, the birds, the whatevers, that I see only on blogs from other places.

    Keith - I hope next year is better. The world would be a sad place without butterflies.

    Roy - thank you. :-)


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