Facts About the Eastern Tiger Swallow Tail Butterfly
The Eastern Tiger Swallow Tail Butterfly
Flitting about the fields or dancing in the garden breezes of summer, the Eastern tiger swallow tail (Pterourus glaucus) is a familiar site in temperate areas in the United States. It's found in North America east of the Rocky Mountains and as far north as Ontario. To the south, the butterflies are found as far south as Mexico.
The Eastern tiger swallow tail is the state butterfly of Virginia, and in the summer months you'll see plenty of them dancing along the weeds growing by the roadside, flitting about the forest trees, and congregating on mud puddles on gravel roads. These butterflies are all seeking food and nutrients in preparation for mating and continuing their life cycle. Among all the butterflies, the Eastern tiger swallow tail is perhaps the easiest to identify, and the easiest to attract to the garden within its habitat range.
The Eastern tiger swallow tail is fairly easy to identify. It is about 3 inches long and either yellow or black in color, with orange, brown or blue spots along the edges of the lower wings. Black bands appear on the yellow wings. The ends of the wings taper into points, creating the 'swallow tail' effect. The wingspan can be up to six inches. The tails of the Eastern tiger swallow tail are always black.
Life Cycle of the Eastern Tiger Swallow Tail
During the summer months, adult Eastern tiger swallow tail butterflies seek mates. After mating, the female lays brown eggs on the underside of the leaves of various plants. The eggs are often laid singly, with one egg per leaf. She prefers to find tulip tree leaves or black cherry tree leaves for her eggs, which is why you will often find Eastern tiger swallow tails in and around the woods.
When the caterpillars emerge, they are brown at first, but will turn to a bright green color over time. The caterpillars have false eye spots, and if threatened, can stand up on their hind ends. This makes them look like tiny snakes, which may be enough to threaten away a hungry bird or other predator. If that's not enough, they'll secrete a bit of liquid which has an awful smell, another way of telling predators, "Go away!"
The caterpillars eat leaves of deciduous trees and woody plants before finding a safe shrub or tree to turn into a chrysalid. The chrysalids overwinter, protected by the boughs of the trees, until they are ready to emerge during the warm days of spring as adult butterflies and begin the life cycle again.
Plants for Butterflies
The Eastern tiger swallow tail needs a variety of woody plants and trees in order to thrive. Females lay their eggs on tulip tree and black cherry tree leaves, but the adults and caterpillars eat different plants for food.
Caterpillars require host plants for food and eat the leaves of various deciduous trees:
- Black cherry
Adult butterflies feed on a variety of wild and garden flowers. Flowers that attract the Eastern tiger swallow tail include:
- Buddleia or butterfly bush. Most of the photographs that accompany this article were taken in my garden, where the tiger swallow tails love to perch on the butterfly bushes. Butterfly bushes can be invasive, so make sure you have plenty of room for them if you choose to plant them.
- Echinacea, also called purple coneflower. This native North American perennial is a favorite for many types of butterflies but especially for the Eastern tiger swallow tail. Purple, yellow and white varieties are available.
- Day lilies are another native perennial suitable for butterflies
- Annuals such as petunias, geraniums, lantana and marigolds
- Eastern Tiger Swallowtail - Papilio glaucus - NatureWorks
The color of the eastern tiger swallowtail can vary. Males are yellow or yellow-orange with black tiger stripes. Their wings are bordered in black with yellow spots and there are black
- Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly
Tiger Swallowtail, Butterflies of Northern Virginia, as described by the Prince William Conservation Alliance
- eastern tiger swallowtail
- Male Eastern tiger swallow tails are always yellow.
- Females can be black or yellow. If they're yellow, they tend to have more or larger blue and orange spots on the tail.
- Males congregate together on mud puddles. This is aptly called "puddling". Scientists aren't sure why only males puddle, but they suspect that the moist earth and rocks provide the males with minerals necessary to produce pheromones, scent chemicals that help attract females.
- The Eastern pipevine butterfly looks a lot like a swallow tail, but the spots are orange and bigger.
- Adult butterflies only drink nectar. They won't harm your plants.
- Any chemical insecticides you spray to kill bad bugs can also kill butterflies, so if you really love butterflies in the garden, use only organic gardening methods and avoid harsh chemicals.
- Males do not stick together for long. While they may congregate near mud puddles, they like to be off by themselves. Females too tend to be loners.