Thursday, May 6, 2010


For dazzling color and intricate design, nothing quite beats the tails of a swallowtail butterfly. As a child, I spent many hours pursuing butterflies and the greatest thrill of all was a swallowtail in my net. I always let them go, but only after I had admired every hair and scale on the wings and body. They suffered no physical disabilities from my handling, but the sparkle on my fingers after a good day indicated that they had lost a little of their luster.

A mirror image. The clean look of the wings indicates that these two have not been long as adults. The female will soon be placing eggs on the Pawpaw leaves. This has been an outstanding year for the Zebra Swallowtail butterflies. They have filled the woods and overflowed into the fields. This butterfly will only be found where the woodland understory supports a healthy population of Pawpaws.

This Tiger Swallowtail is nectaring on Hoary Puccoon. Hoary Puccoon is currently the dominant flowering plant in the prairies and is a valuable nectar source for many species of butterflies. Butterflies can mate and lay eggs without ever eating, but a handy food source extends the life of the female and allows a greater number of eggs to be produced.

There’s quite a bit of wear showing on these wings. A lot of the swallowtail butterflies are looking like this and I’m wondering if the damage was caused by the heavy rain and wind that came through here this past weekend. We had about 4 inches of rain on Sunday and some strong wind bursts early in the morning. Anything exposed to that would definitely show some signs.

Although Black Swallowtails are generally common butterflies most places, I rarely see them here. This may be because the preferred host plants are mostly exotic members of the carrot family that are not commonly found at Blue Jay Barrens. Twenty-five years ago, when the fields were just beginning to transition from cropland to prairie, heavy stands of Queen Anne’s Lace supported large numbers of Black Swallowtails. As the wild carrot population diminished, the Black Swallowtails followed.

There’s also a lot of damage on these wings. Fortunately, it takes a lot more damage than that to slow down a swallowtail.


  1. Interesting story and beautiful pictures! Thanks! I envy you have so many different colorful butterflies..

  2. Thanks, Alexandra. I realize how fortunate I am to have these things right outside my house. I try to share as much as I can.

  3. Loved reading about the Swallowtail! And your photos are fabulous, esp. that first one. Great macro! I'll be back! ~karen