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On the Wings of a Butterfly

But which butterfly is which?

Eastern tiger swallowtail.

Who’s that flittering around your summer garden? Most likely it’s a swallowtail butterfly.
    The swallowtail family includes more than 550 species, flourishing on every continent except Antarctica.
    Among North American swallowtails, a familiar sight is the large black butterfly with yellow spots and some blue and orange scales. That’s (Papilio polyxenes), the Eastern black or American swallowtail. Named after the mythological figure Polyxena —youngest daughter of King Priam of Troy — this winged beauty enjoys Queen Anne’s lace and the herb rue. Its caterpillar is called the parsley worm because of its love of the herb.
    Eurytides marcellus, the zebra swallowtail, is noticeable for its distinct zebra-striped black and white wings. The late-summer broods have long delicate tails; look close and you may see a red stripe in the hindwing. Look for them dancing around pawpaw trees this time of year.
    The familiar Eastern tiger swallowtail, Papilio glaucus (shown above), is the handsome black and yellow fellow gracing your neighborhood. Females have an extra dash of blue scaling on their wings. You may even see them puddling, congregating on a patch of mud to draw nutrients and minerals from the ground. In 2013, Chesapeake Country saw a surge in their numbers.
    “Every few years, we consistently see a rebounding of swallowtail butterflies,” says Elmer Dengler of Bowie.
    He suspects the plentiful tulip poplar and cherry trees contribute to the robust swallowtail population.
    “These trees are the preferred food sources for swallowtail caterpillars. They do well when their food sources do well,” Dengler says.
    Concerted efforts to plant native species in our gardens have helped take a bit of pressure off all species of butterflies, although Dengler says he still hasn’t seen monarch numbers rise as much as he’d like.
    “We need to continue to spread the message that diversity in your lawn and garden contributes to diversity in butterfly populations,” he said.
    Take note of who’s visiting your flower patch, and be on the lookout for monarch caterpillars and chrysalises among the milkweed. They will be emerging soon to continue their northern migration and won’t hang around very long.