So far, in this hot dry summer, the only butterflies I have seen are the white Cabbage butterflies, but they were mostly obvious in June, about the time anything related to the brassica family was growing well. Although I’ve been looking hard, I had not seen any other butterflies of any type. Then last week I saw a monarch, a tiger swallowtail and a black swallowtail. One each. Meanwhile I have butterfly bushes (usually a big draw) in bloom, phlox and some annuals. Last year, I planted many annuals. This year, I started only a few from seed. It is possible that despite shrubs in bloom, there is not enough “draw” to bring butterflies into the yard. Or the abnormally dry conditions (to date .41″ of rain for the month of July) is a factor–less nectar or pollen? I don’t know. Still, I am always pleased when the garden is blessed by these “flying flowers”.
If you see a dark butterfly, did you know that it can possibly be a female Tiger Swallowtail? Apparently, the females can be either a pale tannish-yellow or brownish black, but with the addition of blue markings.
There is mimicry going on among the swallowtails. The Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillars feed on certain Aristolochia vines which imbues their bodies with a poison. Predators who eat them will become violently, upchuckingly ill and thereby learn to avoid these.
Mother Nature apparently gave mimicry of Pipevine Swallowtails to Black Swallowtails, Spicebush Swallowtails and to the dark version of the female Tiger Swallowtail, which all happen to cohabit similar regions of the U.S.
For us to identify which is which (and see provided link below for pix)
1.The Pipevine Swallowtails are quite a dusky blue to black and have no other bright colors.
2. The Spicebush Swallowtail is similarly dark except the additional color in the females are bluer while the males have a greenish cast. Also, Spicebush butterflies have half moon shaped lighter bluish markings traveling the outsides of their wings and a dot of red-orange where the wings meed below the abdomen.
3. The Black Swallowtail is a velvety black with a double row of yellow round, half moon and/or triangles shapes marching along both sets of wings. They also have blue in the lower wings between the yellow marking. The female has more blue there than the male and both have a pronounced red eye shape on the point where the lower wings meet below the abdomen.
4. Eastern Tiger Swallowtail males are bright yellow and black striped with just a teensy hint of blue and single red dots (on the inside and outside) of the lower wings, the upper wing edge is outlined with black and edged with yellow blips of color. The regular female is not as bright yellow,and has stripes and the edge lining but has much more blue in the lower wings, plus the red dots. The dark morph female’s stripes are not so visible given the dusky brown coloration, but otherwise resembles the light female. The dark females are more common in the south.
Additional factoids for Tiger Swallowtails:
Favorite larval foods sources are the Tulip Poplar, Ash, Lilac and the wild Black Cherry.
The caterpillars defences are first mimicking bird droppings, growing eye spots on the body to freak out predators, growing a fleshy organ that everts and emits a foul smelling chemical.
Preference is shown for red or pink flowers, especially the large Asteraceae family which is that of the zinnias, daisies,dahlias, coneflowers, yarrows, etc.
Here is a website to help with some comparisons:
Butterflies at Home