Hello Stalkers, we are fast approaching the end of August and getting closer and closer to the beginning of autumn. This is the thirty-fourth edition of Stalking Mike Blair Outdoors, and we are so happy that you are still along for the ride! Since fall is imminent, let’s enjoy the last couple week’s of summer before it disappears and is replaced by cooler weather and shorter days.
You may have seen this fluttering fellow if you have an herb garden or have a nearby field. The Eastern Black Swallowtail is found throughout much of North America. You may also know this butterfly as the American Swallowtail or the Parsnip Swallowtail. In this newsletter, we’re just going to call them Swallowtails, although technically this term includes many different species of the swallowtail, we’ll use it in reference to the Eastern Black Swallowtail for the time being.
Swallowtails can be found from Southern Canada all the way down to South America. In the
United States, they are most common east of the Rocky Mountains. They usually inhabit open areas such as fields, parks, marshes and deserts. They prefer tropical or temperate habitats. These butterflies are pretty easy to identify from the “tails” they have on their backwings. They have a wingspan of 6.9 – 8.4cm and females are usually larger than the males. The upperwing surface is black with two rows of yellow spots. The male’s spots are large and bright, while the female’s tend to be smaller and lighter. The female swallowtail has a prominent blue area between the two rows and the male’s is significantly less prominent.
The female swallowtail will lay single eggs on the host plant. These eggs are round and pale yellow. They will hatch between 4 – 9 days after being laid. Young swallowtail larvae are black and white with a saddle. The older larvae is green with black transverse bands containing yellow spots. Swallowtails utilize herbs in the carrot family, but are also known to use hemlock as a host plant. (**It is recommended that you do NOT plant hemlock in an effort to attract swallowtails, as the plant is highly poisonous**) Interestingly, the swallowtail caterpillar absorbs toxins from it’s host plants so that it will taste bad to it’s predatory birds. The swallowtail will remain in the larval stage between 10 – 30 days depending on the environment and genetics. Then it will enter the pupal stage. The pupae will either be green or brown, depending on its surroundings. The adult swallowtail will emerge from the pupae after 18 days, except when overwintering. During winter, the swallowtail will remain in the pupae until spring. There are two to three generations of swallowtails each year and their life span is considered longer than most other butterflies.
Did you know this butterfly is the state butterfly of Oklahoma? Also, an interesting tidbit – the Eastern Black Swallowtail, Papilio polyxenes, is named after a figure in Greek Mythology. The Swallowtail is named after Polyxena, the youngest daughter of King Priam of Troy. Have you seen this butterfly in your outdoor adventures? We want to hear about it!
Also, be sure to check out the Eastern Black Swallowtail Photo Gallery!