Thursday, August 8th of 2013, a lone AmeriCorps member trellises cherry tomatoes at Prairie Pines Community Farm. Cool breeze passing through the hoop house, a flutter of dark wings catches her eye amongst the sea of green, brilliantly spotted with yellow. Not a species she is familiar with, she swiftly pulls out her phone and snaps a few quick photos!
If any of you peruse our Facebook regularly, you’ve probably seen this picture already, and can identify this gorgeous lady as a female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail. Identified through a trusted and knowledgeable Facebook follower, and an office field guide, the scientific name is Papilio glaucus (family Papilionidae, order Lepidoptera).
Enter a few fun facts about the tiger swallowtail, whose range spans all of the eastern United States into North Dakota, Wyoming and east parts of Texas…
Let’s start from the beginning. As caterpillars, they are humpbacked and green, with yellow, black ringed eye spots towards the front of the hump. The caterpillars feed on cottonwoods, birches, cherries, ashes, tulip-poplars, and willows. Adults butterflies, in comparison, love to snack on the nectar of wild cherry, lilac, and milkweed. In general, these lepidoptera prefer river bank and woodland habitats. So, combined, one could safely hypothesize that this partially explains why they’re making appearances at our farm – it’s full of milkweed and surrounded by wooded areas that act as windbreaks!
Blame it on that crazy thing called genetics, Eastern Tiger Swallowtails come in several different morphologies. These include light male (yellow with 4 dark tiger stripes, edges of wing dark), light female (same morph as light male, but add a row of blue circular markings, sometimes rimmed with faded orange on the hindwing), and dark female (pictured in this post!). They grow 2.5″ – 4.5″ inches in wingspan. Here’s a little human-butterfly size comparison:
All said, this butterfly gave my Thursday an excellent start, and made me learn a few new things in the process. It’s great to see such a variety of pollinators flitting about the farm, and such a striking one is always welcome! Fly on tiger swallowtail, fly on.
Tuesday, August 13th, of 2013. Sun beating down, a lone AmeriCorps member strolls across the fields of the farm. Out of the corner of her eye, she notices the quick beat of wings. Could it be? Another visit from the swallowtail? Pausing, she turns to see the tigress’s male counterpart land upon an aster, only just visible against the yellow petals of the flower. Fumbling for her phone, the butterfly is much too quick…perhaps she’ll be quicker at the draw next time!
For now here is one last photo, and thanks to Field Guide to Insects and Spiders of North America by Arthur V. Evans and http://www.butterfliesandmoths.org/species/Papilio-glaucus for help with this post!