Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

For the last few weeks my phlox have been blooming their little hearts out attracting all kinds of butterflies and moths. There have been a few of these giant yellow butterflies, but when I’ve tried to get their portrait, they’ve quickly left the buffet and gone off to other gardens not harassed by strange women with cameras.  But last night when I got home from work, there were 4 or 5 of these guys feasting on phlox nectar.

It was a feeding frenzy and they were so occupied with scarfing down their suppers, they didn’t pay much attention to me.

I’ve always called them yellow swallowtails, but their proper name is the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail.  They range over the eastern half of the United States and are quite large having wingspans that range from 3 to 5 inches across. The males are smaller than the females and are yellow with small blue spots on the lower wings.


The females are yellow with larger blue spots.


Females can also have all-black wings, and sometimes even yellow wings on on one side of their bodies and black wings on the other side.

When males and females decide to start a family, the males will hang around plants that their young will eat as larva. When a female arrives, the male releases a perfume-like scent to attract her. After mating the female lays small eggs, which hatch into caterpillars that resemble bird droppings, a defense against predators. The caterpillars also defend themselves by releasing a foul odor when threatened.

When not eating, a caterpillar will make a home for itself to rest in by folding a leaf in half over the top of itself and securing it with silk. When the caterpillar gets a little older, it has spots that resemble eyes on the back of its large head making it look like a small snake. Later the caterpillar transforms into a mottled brown chrysalis or pupa. A few weeks later, a mature Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly emerges.

Next to the monarch butterfly, swallowtails have always been my favorite.

What is your favorite butterfly?


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14 Responses

  1. Eliza says:

    Again beautiful shots! I have a butterfly bush (and phlox). I also get a zebra swallow tails. Have you seen them in your parts? They’re black & white (like the tiger swallowtails) and have bright red spots on the bottom of their wings… absolutely beautiful!

  2. Tina says:

    Very pretty! And nice narrative on your part I might add. My favorite butterflys are native to Nevada called Painted Ladies. They are quite small compared to your Swallowtail. We have had hardly any this year.

    • Suzanne says:

      We hadn’t seen the swallowtails until the last couple weeks, so maybe you’ll have painted ladies yet this year.

  3. The coloring on these butterflies is absolutely stunning. I just love the blue against the yellow. You really did get some great shots. I know the frustrations of trying to photograph butterflies..it’s not easy! My favorite shot in this post is #3…wow, how beautiful!

    P.S. On August 13th I’m going to a festival in Ohio {not far from us} called Shaker Woods. It is absolutely amazing. I’ve been there once before. It is 3 consecutive weekends in a row. Crafters from all over the U.S. It all takes place in the woods, literally. There are 280 craft booths. They are all built to look like little houses. You have got to check out the web site just for the heck of it. Click on the map of the festival…you will be amazed. I can’t wait. I thought of you when I was looking at the website because I know you would enjoy something like this! Here’s the link http://www.shakerwoods.com/index.cfm

  4. Maegan says:

    Oh pretty! I think we get a few of those out here. I always see them fluttering around in mid July, but we only get a small handful.

    I think my favorite butterfly is a Blue Morpho. They’re not remotely native to Colorado, but we do have a butterfly pavilion near by that raises them.

  5. Doe of Mi. says:

    Lovely, lovely. And the Phlox also. I have wild Phlox along the back of my yard which goes into a woods. And they always make me smile. They are gone now for another year. Darn. The colors in your photos are just beautiful.

    • Suzanne says:

      Thank you Doe! Our phlox are having a long bloom time this year probably because we’ve been getting regular rains since they began to bloom.

  6. OMG, can nature or your photograph be any prettier? I don’t think so. Great pictures.

  7. Elaine Snively says:

    When we were in California’s Angio-Borega Desert area, thousands of Painted Lady Butterflies were migrating. The Ranger at the nature center said it doesn’t happen every year. We were just lucky! They were beautiful, but then I think all butterflies are beautiful.

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