Saturday, May 7, 2011

Tiger Swallowtail

When I was a kid, I considered the Tiger Swallowtail butterfly to be the King of Butterflies. It was large, colorful and abundant; all of the things that a youthful nature enthusiast could want. I spent hours chasing through the fields in hopes of getting a close up look at one of these beauties. To have a Tiger Swallowtail just sit quietly and allow itself to be admired, is something I could not have imagined back then.

The best time to view butterflies is soon after their emergence from the chrysalis. There is a period of time when the newly unfurled wings are drying, during which the butterfly will not move unless strongly provoked. This is when the colors are at their brightest and can be best enjoyed. The wings do not regenerate and as soon as the butterfly begins to forage, colorful scales will be lost and the wing edges will begin to wear. It’ll still be beautiful, but the perfection it began with will be lost.

I think I found this guy at just the right time. The tails on the hind wings have not quite completed their expansion. The colors are amazingly vivid. The blue sprinkles on the velvety black background remind me of galaxies and star clusters.

I wonder if all of those hairs help keep the body warm at night. These early emerging individuals will have to survive a few frosty nights. It’s hard to see how something that small could hold onto much heat, but I can imagine that black body capturing the last heat of a setting sun and then the wings folding over to hold that warmth for as long as possible. Sometimes there’s a very fine margin between survival and death. Maybe those hairs can give just enough advantage to make a difference.


  1. I'm confused now..I saw some the other day looked all beat up like they migrated , but you are saying this one just emerged. Does the chrysalis of TS survive thru winter?

  2. I agree, Wilma. The summer brood individuals will be even larger and brighter.

    Hi, Michael. The Tiger Swallowtail overwinters as a chrysalis. In Southern Ohio, adults begin to emerge in late March, so there are some that have been around long enough to be pretty battered. The first week of May is about the peak of the spring brood emergence. This is when the Tiger Swallowtails really become numerous.