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Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Common Name: Eastern Tiger Swallowtail.

Scientific Name: Papilio Glaucus.

What to look for?  Eastern Tiger Swallowtails are large, beautifully colored butterflies. You will identify them easily by their black "tiger stripes". Male Eastern Tiger Swallowtails are always yellow, while females may be yellow or black (dimorphic coloration). Male is yellow with dark tiger stripes. Female may be yellow like the male or black with shadows of dark stripes. On the underside, the yellow and black colors more muted. The hindwing of both female forms has a row of striking blue chevrons and an iridescent blue wash over parts of the interior hindwing.

Where can they be found at Carillon Stonegate Pond? Eastern Tiger Swallowtails are quite common and very easy to spot. They are present from April through October, but more active in summer. While Tiger Swallowtails spend much of their lives high in the canopy of broadleaf deciduous trees, they will frequent your gardens and our shorelines along Carillon Stonegate Pond with flowers such as Butterfly Bush, Purple Coneflower, Wild Bergamot, and milkweeds.

How big are they? The wingspan of the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail averages approximately four to five inches.

What are their flight patterns? Eastern Tiger Swallowtails are often seen flying high over deciduous woods, forests, and along nearby streams. They are graceful in flight and you may see them gliding through the air.

How else do they behave? You can sometimes see a special sight when a group of Eastern Tiger Swallowtail males are “puddling.” - gathering at damp places in the soil to drink water. More often, these butterflies are loners and will fly from place to place looking for a mate. The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail has a short lifespan – only several weeks.

What’s for dinner? Like all butterflies, Eastern Tiger Swallowtails have a different diet during their larval caterpillar phase than they do as winged adults. As caterpillars, they utilize a large variety of trees, such as cottonwood, ash, birch, wild black cherry, tulip tree, sweet bay (magnolia), and willow. As adults, they feed on nectar from a wide range of blooming native plants, including honeysuckle, milkweeds, azaleas, thistles and other urban flowers.

Where do they take up residence? Eastern Tiger Swallowtails reside in eastern North America from Ontario, Canada south to the Gulf coast and west to the Colorado plains and central Texas. Their habitat is varied, including deciduous broadleaf woods, forest edges, river valleys, parks, and suburbs.

When and where do they breed and nest? Remember the lifecycle of a butterfly: (1) eggs, (2) larval state as caterpillar, (3) pupa state in chrysalis or cocoon, and (4) butterfly. The lifespan of an adult butterfly is only about two weeks. They produce two broods per year. Females lay their large green eggs singly on host plants. This Egg stage generally lasts one week to ten days, depending on temperature and host plant. Young caterpillars are brown and white and resemble bird droppings (Can you guess why?). Later, as they mature, the caterpillars turn bright green and have two amazing and distinctive black, yellow, and blue false eyespots on the thorax above and behind their true eyes. Their Caterpillar (larval) stage lasts three to four weeks. Next, they will be in the Chrysalis (pupal) stage for approximately ten to twenty days (except for overwintering pupae). And, finally, their lifespan as an adult butterfly stage will only last a short two weeks.

Where do they migrate? The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail does not migrate. It spends the winter in the chrysalis stage.

What is their conservation status? There is no concern.

Do they make any interesting sounds? No.

Interesting Facts About the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail:

  • The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly is the state butterfly of Alabama, Delaware, Georgia, and South Carolina.

  • The name "tiger swallowtail" refers to black, tiger-like stripes on the wings and long, pointed wing tails that look like swallow's tail (type of bird).

  • The true head of the caterpillar is small, inconspicuous, and tucked under the body, but if disturbed, the caterpillar is a quick-change artist and confronts a predator with a snake’s head with glaring eyes a nose and mouth! A “snake in caterpillar’s clothing” mimetic display.

  • Tiger swallowtail has straw-like tube in the mouth which functions like flexible tongue designed for suction of liquids. "Tongue" is curled into spiral when it is not in use.

  • Natural enemies of Eastern Tiger Swallowtails are hornets, hawks, flycatchers, woodpeckers, blackbirds, owls, squirrels, raccoons and possums.

  • Eastern Tiger Swallowtail completes its life cycle (from egg to adult butterfly) in one month. Adult butterfly usually lives a few weeks.

For more information on the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail and sources of information used in this blog (these are the sources that I am using to learn as I blog), please visit Butterflies and Moths of North America, North America Butterfly Association, Wisconsin Butterflies, NatureWorks and U.S.D.A. Forest Service.

The Carillon at Stonegate community is very fortunate to have a variety of wetland, forest and prairie environments conducive to a variety of birds and other wildlife, insects and plants. Our community and the Kane County Forest Preserve do an exceptional job in maintaining this natural environment – both for the benefit of the birds and wildlife and for our residents to enjoy.


Take a hike and see what you can find – and identify!

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