Monday, September 12, 2011

The Swallowtails of Red House Garden

The large, striking swallowtail butterfly is one of the more commonly seen butterflies in North America.   Swallowtails are named due to their tails having a long, forked shape similar to some types of swallows.  Members of this butterfly family can be found on every continent except for Antarctica.

According to the North Carolina Butterfly Page by Jeffrey S. Pippen, there are eight different Swallowtail species that can be found in North Carolina.  Two of the species have been documented visiting the Red House garden - the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail and the Spicebush Swallowtail.  Hopefully as my butterfly gardens take shape, more of these beautiful visitors will come.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail is very common in the eastern United States.  The male is yellow with black 'tiger' stripes (or, more accurately, black with yellow stripes).  Occasionally some blue may be found on the hindwings.

male Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
The female comes in two forms.  The first 'yellow' form looks much like the male, but with more blue on the hindwing.

female yellow Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
The second female form is the 'dark' one.  This one is dark brown or black, but you can still see the black 'tiger' stripes on the underside of the wings.  She also has orange spots on the underside of her hindwings.

female dark Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
The dark female type has blue on the hindwing similar to the yellow type. The butterflies in these photos have had an altercation with someone or something and have torn the back of their wings.

female dark Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
 The dark female Eastern Tiger coloring actually mimics the poisonous Pipevine Swallowtail, another dark colored butterfly with orange spots on the underwing, which provides protection against predators.  If there are more Pipevine Swallowtails in an area, there will be a higher percentage of dark female Eastern Tigers as opposed to yellow.  This is, no doubt, due to likely predators not wanting to take a chance on eating the dark, look-alike butterfly and risk falling sick.  We apparently do not have a lot of Pipevine Swallowtails around, as many of the dark female Eastern Tigers I've seen here look like something has tried to take a bite out of them.

female dark Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
In general, the female offspring of these Swallowtails will have the same coloring as their mothers.

female yellow Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
Host plants for the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail caterpillars include aspens, birches, black cherry trees, lilacs, sweet bay, and tulip trees.  Adult Swallowtails are attracted to nectar plants.  The males are also attracted to mud puddles, as they need extra salt and nutrients that the mud provides for mating.

Spicebush Swallowtail
 
Another Swallowtail visitor of the Red House Garden is the beautiful black Spicebush Swallowtail, which can be found throughout the Eastern United States.  The males have green coloring on their hindwings, while females sport a bluish hue.

female Spicebush Swallowtail
On the underside of their hindwings, Spicebush Swallowtails have orange spots - yet another dark colored butterfly with orange spots trying to pass itself off to possible predators as the poisonous Pipevine Swallowtail.

Spicebush Swallowtail
Another interesting attribute of many Swallowtails including this one is that, unlike most butterflies, they do not always land on the flower or plant to feed or lay eggs.  Instead, they often hover in place over the flower while holding themselves in place with their feet.

Spicebush Swallowtail
Thus they look like they are constantly fluttering while feeding.

female Spicebush Swallowtail
As one can guess from the name, the main host plant for the Spicebush Swallowtail is spicebush.  Sassafras and bays are sometimes used as well.  The adult Spicebush is attracted to nectar plants such as Joe-pye weed, lantana, and this buddleia.


Come again soon, beautiful Swallowtails!
You are always welcome at the Red House garden!

linking with Macro Monday today

14 comments:

  1. Great pictures. It's hard to get them to pose! I always get so excited when I see a swallowtail. They are so pretty. I liked that you posted the different ones all together.

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  2. This reminds me of a butterfly garden that I visited once. Happy memories.

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  3. Beautiful images of theses butterflies.

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  4. So pretty! Love your photo of the female Spicebush!

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  5. What great pictures of the butterflies. I love the Butterfly bush but I have had no luck with them here. I have planted two and both died. Maybe I should try again for the Butterflies. Thanks for the Fave on Blotanical I appreciate it so much. Have a wonderful week.

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  6. Truly fabulous pictures! I've tried to get my lens close to the swallowtails here, but they seem somewhat skittish, and always come out a blur. The spicebush swallowtail is just gorgeous. I wish we had so many large butterflies in our gardens!

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  7. Beautiful butterflies! I see these quite often in the garden, but it is always a joy. They are so pretty. Your photos do them great justice!

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  8. What a beautiful and informative post. Even though I have literally dozens (if not a hundred) native spicebush shrubs I never get any spicebush swallowtail butterflies. Please send some in my direction.

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  9. I will never forget the first time I was able to photograph a Swallowtail in my garden - I was SO excited. And I still feel a thrill every time I see a butterfly. Lots of great information in your post on the Swallowtails - I especially enjoyed learning the origin of the name.

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  10. Nice info, I enjoy the swallowtails immensely here in Kansas.

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  11. Thanks for visiting! I actually put my camera on sports mode (which constantly takes pictures fairly quickly) to take the picks of the Spicebush Swallowtail, as it was constantly fluttering around. They are so beautiful. Wishing you some of those butterflies, Carolyn!

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  12. Love these creatures! Very interesting post, thank you!!!

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  13. Great post and captures of these graceful butterflies! They are popular in my garden too and I really enjoy them!

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  14. Dear Indie, I love swallowtails, too, and your photographs of them are stunning! P. x

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