Home of the Practically Perfect Pink Phlox and other native plants for pollinators

Monday, June 10, 2013

A Swallowtail Stopped By

To nectar on the Butterflyweed.
Forewing with diagonal band of yellow spots. Tails are edged with black and filled with yellow
I waited patiently for it to stop flitting and pose prettily with wings fully spread, but, it was feasting madly.
It superficially resembled an Eastern Swallowtail while gliding about, but once it settled on the Asclepias tuberosa, it was clear that it was not one of my regular garden visitors. The coloring was wrong and it had an unusually large wing span. I was pretty sure it was a Giant Swallowtail and just as I've read, that first sighting was dazzling! (go here for more images)

What a beauty and the 6.3 inch (16cm) wing span makes it the largest North American butterfly.

Speaking of North America, the Giant Swallowtail is on the move. It's moving further north and further west! In the last few years it's been spotted in Los Angelos, CA and Ontario, Canada. You might want to check out this article about its migration to Canada.
The Giant Swallowtail Butterfly/Papilio cresphontes' flight is a graceful series of strong flaps and long glides. It spends its time on the wing, nectaring or patrolling for mates (if male). It's welcome in most gardens, but, is considered a pest in Florida where citrus trees are its chosen host plant. Once they mate the female lays one bright orange egg on a host plant~here in Middle Tennessee it's either the Prickly Ash tree/Zanthoxylum americanum or the Hop Tree/Ptelea trifoliata, when the egg hatches the caterpillars, which resemble bird droppings, begin to eat the leaves and young shoots. (If you want to see the larva that looks like bird poo go here!)
 
It might not be welcome in a Florida citrus grove, but, it's more than welcome to stop by my garden and nectar all it wants, after all, I garden for wildlife.

xoxogail

Gail Eichelberger is a gardener and therapist in Middle Tennessee. She loves wildflowers and native plants and thoroughly enjoys writing about the ones she grows at Clay and Limestone. She reminds all that the words and images are the property of the author and cannot be used without written permission.

23 comments:

  1. Wow, Gail...what a spectacular post with amazing photos and video to go with it...and most of all what a special treat for you! Thank you for sharing your treat for the rest of us to experience. I would love to have this beauty visit my garden!! Have never seen 1 in person. Maybe one will zig zag from your garden in TN up to VA...?! Hope so :)

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  2. The Swallowtails always make me catch my breath ... each time I see one, it's like the first time!

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  3. It's moving WEST? Oh goodie! I'm so prepared... Butterfly Weed in bud. LOL we rarely get any butterflies here except for cabbage whites. So when they're spotted... it's a big deal. Keeping my hopes up. Your pictures are divine.

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  4. What a sighting, dear Gail, and well captured! I seem to remember seeing the giant one year here, but they were common in our Texas garden. Moving north, will keep an eye out!
    xoxoxo
    Frances

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  5. How very beautiful! So wonderful for you to have in your garden!
    I haven't seen many butterflies this year, but I did see a Great Spangled Fritillary visiting my Dianthus yesterday. We are just barely in the edge of its range, so I was quite excited to see it.
    Have a wonderful week!
    Lea
    Lea's Menagerie

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  6. You are so lucky to have captured the giant swallowtail! I have spent many minutes chasing one around my garden to try to photograph it when it would NEVER sit still. Beautiful shots!

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  7. The swallowtails are my favorites in the garden. We did have a Giant this year too and I only remember the Tigers from years past. Did not realize they were covering a larger area now.

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  8. Butterfly weed here is not ready to bloom. But I'll keep my eyes out. After all, I'm "on the way" to Ontario for a butterfly.

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  9. This could be the best butterfly post ever. I would love to see a Giant Swallowtail, but I don't think there are Prickly Ash or Hop trees near here. I know the best way to get specific butterflies is to feed their caterpillars. Still one might fly my way on his way to Canada. I promise him or her lunch.

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  10. Lovely as a flower. Thanks for sharing it with us!

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  11. Wonderful! The last photo is my favorite :)

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  12. Stunning photography!!! Beautiful butterfly.

    FlowerLady

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  13. Beautiful pictures! So jealous about the swallowtail, I haven't seen any yet this year. Butterflyweed is one of my favorite perennials, mine has formed buds but has not flowered yet. I have a couple of established clumps and just planted some more. I love the color and shape of the flower.

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  14. Gorgeous photos, Gail! Your swallowtail visitor picked a lovely spot. :-)

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  15. What an amazing butterfly! And your photos are gorgeous, Gail! Can't wait for my butterfly weed to bloom to see what visitors it might bring.

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  16. You were fortunate to see that creature in your beautiful garden.~~Dee

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  17. Wonderful pictures!! I hope I get these in my garden!

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  18. It seems the butterfly weed in TN is drawing lots of butterflies...we need some extended dry weather to get any butterflies out for photo opps. What a rare lovely visitor...hope to see them here one day.

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  19. Thank you for the lovely photos. We have lots of butterflies here but I find it really difficult to capture them on camera:)

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  20. Just beautiful! I love those butterflies and had a group of the larva feeding on my rue last year. I hope they come back this year.

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  21. Gail, I had one in my garden last year, and just like you couldn't resist using my video feature. There was a lawn mower revving in the background, almost in time with the wing beating - quite comical. Don't you adore it when the butterfly stands on the flower it was named for. An absolutely gorgeous little creature.

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  22. Ooh, how lovely! All butterflies are welcome here too.

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  23. Indeed a very lovely creature. When at rest, the butterfly holds its wings together. It opens them at brief intervals as to reveal a brightly coloured spot on each hind-wing; these spots, to predators, look like the eyes of a much larger animal, hence protecting the butterfly.

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Let us be grateful to people who make us happy;
they are the charming gardeners
who make our souls blossom.


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