Thursday, January 16, 2014

Identifying Butterflies

None of these butterflies are exactly the same~can you tell them apart?


Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly is the state insect of Virginia. The native tulip poplar tree is the main host to the larvae, as well as Sweetbay Magnolia and Black Cherry. Fortunately I have several huge tulip poplars in my backyard and they are all over the neighborhood. We also planted a Sweetbay Magnolia last fall.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, male (R) and female (L) nectaring on Joe Pye Weed
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly (female) on Agastache- Black Form is always female.
Black Swallowtail
The Black Swallowtail butterfly larval host plant is native Golden Alexander, which I've planted several of. The caterpillars also feed on plants in the carrot family, including parsley, fennel, dill, queen anne's lace, and of course, carrots. This past summer I was able to raise a bunch of them from egg to butterfly...watching the cycle was amazing. I've posted about the process before and plan to blog about last summers experience, eventually.

Black Swallowtail  butterfly on Rudbeckia Laciniata leaf~top view
Black Swallowtail butterfly just emerged from cocoon~side view
Spicebush Swallowtail
The Spicebush Swallowtail larval host is the Spicebush (which I have two of) and the Sassafras tree. I posted photos of the adorable cats on my spicebush last summer. They are very different looking than the other swallowtail caterpillars.
Spicebush Swallowtail butterflyon phlox paniculata~top view
Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly on summer phlox~side view
Red-Spotted Purple (not a swallowtail at all, but can get confused with one!)
The Red-Spotted Purple butterfly looks a little like the Spicebush Swallowtail~minus the swallow tail. I don't often see them but the photo below from last summer shows one who had been through some rough times. In my yard the larvae feed on serviceberry, poplar and oak trees.

Red-Spotted Purple butterfly resting on hammock~top view
Red-Spotted Purple butterfly on agastache~top view
Red Spotted Purple~side view
As you can see, the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (yellow form) is pretty easy to spot. But the black form of the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (did you even know there was a black form?) and the Black Swallowtail can be difficult to tell apart, unless you know that there are two rows of white dots along the edge of the Black Swallowtail and only one row along the edge of the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, black form. The Spicebush Swallowtail looks very similar, especially from the side view with wings closed. Even the Red Spotted Purple (which isn't a swallowtail at all) looks similar to the Spicebush Swallowtail, just without the 'swallow tail'. I find myself going to my friend Randy's webage Butterflies of the Carolinas and Virginias when I am trying to determine what butterfly I am looking at.

What gifts have you discovered today? Until next time,

Words and photos ©Thanks for today.™, by Jan Huston Doble @ http://www.thanksfor2day.blogspot.com/
Not to be reproduced or re-blogged without express permission of the author.

18 comments:

  1. Butterflies in the garden are indeed a special treat. I've never seen a Red-Spotted Purple or a Spicebush Swallowtail here. I think I'm too far north. They are so beautiful. Thanks for showing yours!

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    1. I honestly did not realize just what kind of butterflies they were until after I'd taken the photos. For a long time, I was incorrectly identifying the female (black form) of the eastern tiger swallowtail as a black swallowtail. It wasn't until after I had watched the black swallowtail emerge from a pupae that I realized it was so much different than the black form of the eastern tiger swallowtail. Took me years to figure that out!

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  2. What have I discovered today? That the chrysalis we found in the house has shriveled away before I've had time to photograph and identify it; In some ways, I'm relieved. I'd been wondering whether a beetle would crawl out of it in the night.

    I wish I'd found your butterflies!

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    Replies
    1. It's probably just as well it's gone since it may not have been a butterfly at all! But it certainly would have been nice to have one emerge inside, I agree!

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  3. I love seeing butterflies in the garden! We find these butterflies in our garden too...I only see a few spicebush swallowtails each year and am thrilled when I do. I've never seen the cats on our spicebush but hope that we will one of these years.

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    Replies
    1. Unfortunately the cats on my spicebush did not live :( They were really cute and I had high hopes for their survival but each day I would go out and check them and one was always missing each time I looked. I believe the birds got them. Hopefully when the bush is larger they will have more cover. But they were fun to watch while they were there.

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  4. We have a lot of Tiger Swallowtails here due to the host plants; we have a lot of tulip poplars, sweetbays and black cherries. I did know there is a black form, and that it's always female. My ability to tell all of the different butterfly species part is pretty rudimentary though. I think the Black swallowtails are so showy. I don't think I've seen Spicebush swallowtails around or Red-Spotted Purple Butterflies, but I will keep an eye out! And plant more sassafras and spice bushes. I only have an Asian species of spicebush currently. I love Randy's webpage. It's such a good reference.

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    Replies
    1. Lots of tiger swallowtails here, too...more of those than any other. After I finally figured out just how pretty a black swallowtail is, I realize it is not at all the same as the black form of the tiger swallowtail...and actually much 'blacker'. I used to ID the dark form of the tiger as a black swallowtail...a mistake I've made in many previous blogposts but there are probably too many to go back and fix so I won't bother. Live and learn :) I don't see spicebush that often nor red spotted purples and didn't even know what they were until after I took photos of them and did a little research.

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  5. Thanks for this, I always have trouble distinguishing my swallowtails. I have several Spicebush and am waiting to see my first Spicebush Swallowtail.

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    Replies
    1. I do hope a spicebush butterfly (or several) will visit your garden soon, Jason!

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  6. I have trouble distinguishing one swallowtail in my garden from another, unless I manage to get a good picture and can use it to consult a butterfly guide. Another good source for identifiation is bugguide.net. I posted a photo there of a butterfly visiting us last fall, after scouring their pages with no luck. Within a day, someone correctly identified it for me.

    Great photos, by the way!

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    Replies
    1. I'm glad I'm not alone, Rose! I also like bugguide...and have it listed in my sidebar. For the butterflies I listed in this post, though, I go to Randy's page because he is fairly local for me (even though he's in NC and I'm in VA). It's really a page just for this local area. I should have mentioned Bugguide in the post itself, thanks for suggesting it~!

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  7. I need to bookmark this because I always have to look them up when I post them, and even then don't always get them right. I too use bugguide. It is a great site and always have gotten an answer almost immediately.

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  8. I wrote the post to sort it out in my own head, actually, Donna! It really can be confusing...even though it seems fairly straight forward!

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  9. The common thread is the slightly curvy TAIL or should I say TAILS on the swallowtails, right? We rarely see anything but the western swallowtail in these parts so your post is a feast for the eyes. Such fascinating creatures.

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  10. I agree with everyone who commented on this post. I have trouble distinguishing the difference between the black ones unless they sit still long enough for me to get a good look or take a picture. Swallowtails of various sorts are the most common butterflies in my garden. I think it's too shady for monarchs, although I do get a few of them during midday. I use http://wisconsinbutterflies.org/ sometimes, although it makes me realize how much more I need to learn about them. :) These are beautiful photos, Jan!

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  11. Great post, Jan. :o) Sometimes they flutter by so quickly it's hard to know which species is which. I'll need to keep this bookmarked, too.

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  12. You've certainly made me miss my summer butterflies!

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Thanks so much for visiting and taking the time to comment! Please enjoy your TODAY and all of the gifts in YOUR garden of life!

Jan

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