While the male tiger swallowtail butterfly flaunts yellow and black stripes like that of a tiger, the female may be darker than the male or similar to it. Abundance of tiger swallowtails is probably due to its versatile feeding habits and wide range of host plants, where the female lay their eggs.
The tiger swallowtail butterfly is a frequent visitor to the home gardens, and trees around us. It contributes to the large group of swallowtail butterflies, which account to about 500 species in total. Even many of the caterpillars that you have seen feeding on the plant foliage are that of the tiger swallowtails. Having specific characteristics, you can easily identify this butterfly species at one glance.
Tiger Swallowtail Facts and Info
Tiger swallowtail is a large species of butterfly, and the adult females are larger than the male counterparts. It shares the same taxonomic family with other swallowtail butterflies, such as the eastern, western, southern, sahara, giant, black, zebra, spicebush, short-tailed, two-tailed. They are generally attracted to red and pink flowers borne on hardy plants. Some facts about this butterfly species are presented below, which you will find interesting to learn.
What is in a Name?
The name ‘Tiger swallowtail butterfly’ is given for two reasons – color and tail like extensions. This lovely insect is adorned with yellow and black stripes throughout the wingspan and body. In case of some females, the wing and body color is darkened. As for the term ‘swallowtail’, this type of butterfly possesses long and tapering tail like features in the hind wings, which resemble the tail of a swallow bird.
Widely accepted scientific name for tiger swallowtail is Papilio glaucus. Over here, Papilio is the genus name, while glaucus is the species name of this striped butterfly. It belongs to the superfamily Papilionoidea, family Papilionidae and subfamily Papilioninae. The class and order of this butterfly species are Insecta and Lepidoptera respectively. Species name for tiger swallowtail varies, based on the particular strain.
Tiger Swallowtail Description
Other than the color and wings, there are many more features that differentiate a tiger swallowtail from others species of butterflies. The wingspan of this butterfly type averages 9-16.5 cm Upon observation, you will come to know that this butterfly has the ability to fly for longer distances. It is often seen flying above the ground level, and at other times, at the treetop levels.
Habitat and Distribution
Swallowtail butterflies are generally distributed in nearly all parts of the world. They are named differently in accordance to the respective regions, where they are dominant. Say for instance, the eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly is prevalent in eastern United States, while western swallowtail butterfly is seen commonly in western North America. They are found in swampy areas, alongside rivers, woodlands, grasslands and cities.
Diet and Feeding Habits
The diet of this butterfly differs according to stage it is in. While the adult butterflies primarily feed on sweet nectar of various flower species, the caterpillars devour plant foliage. The pupa represents a resting phase, while it prepares for emerging as a fly. Food plants for this butterfly include lilac bush, poplar tree, black cherry, chokecherry and sweet bay magnolia. The larvae feed voraciously and increase their size manifold before entering the pupal stage.
Tiger Swallowtail Reproduction
The male tiger swallowtail butterflies fly alone in search for compatible females. They intercept the females for the purpose of copulation. While laying eggs, the female butterfly is very careful about the location. It only lays eggs on or nearby host plants, i.e. plants that the caterpillars can feed on after they emerge from the egg shells. Individual eggs are laid on the foliage of shrubs and woody plants.
Four Growth Stages
In studying insects, the life cycle of butterflies is often taken as an example for studying metamorphosis. As with other butterflies, the tiger swallowtail has four growth phases, which are totally different from one another. The stages include – egg (yellowish green in color), larvae (smooth, green caterpillar with distinctive eyespots), pupae (brown color) and adult. Of these, caterpillars eat the most and grow to about 2 inch in length.
Tiger Swallowtail Predators
Birds are the prime natural enemies of adult butterflies. This holds true for the tiger swallowtail butterfly too. As for the caterpillars, they are green and camouflaged for their surrounding. Their exceptionally large head and eyespots are adaptations to deter predators. However, there are various animals that feed on the smooth, green caterpillars, of which some are raccoons, squirrels and shrews.
Watching the vibrant colored swallowtail butterflies is indeed a relaxing hobby that you can enjoy in your spare time. If you already have a garden, incorporate caterpillar food plants or the host plants to invite them. Consider planting abelia and lilacs for the adult flies, while growing cherry, magnolia and tulip tree will encourage the females to visit and lay eggs in your garden.