Often times we need look no further than our own backyard to find beautiful and fascinating tidbits of nature. As adults with busy lives chock full of “important” things to do we miss out on or pay little heed to the magic of life that any child would immediately see. The showy Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio glaucus) makes its appearance every spring flitting from flower to flower in our gardens and fields. Surely you remember chasing butterflies as a child but never quite able to catch them.
The Tiger Swallowtail starts life as a small yellow-green egg laid by a mature female on a host plant such as black cherry, ash, cottonwood, magnolia, tulip poplar or willow. It takes about a month for the egg to hatch, transitioning into a caterpillar, or larva, and finally pupating into what is called a chrysalis. The chrysalis is the resting stage (or hibernation stage in colder climates) from which a beautiful butterfly emerges. It takes several hours for the butterfly to break through the pupal skin and when it does it must spread and dry its wings before taking flight. Not many people get to see such an event or even care to take the time to watch it but those that do are amply rewarded with one of Mother Natures true miracles. Though some butterflies are poisonous, discouraging consumption by birds and other predators, the Tiger Swallowtail is not. Tiger Swallowtails will, however, often turn brown to mimic (called Batesian Mimicry) the poisonous Pipevine Swallowtail and thus avoid predators. Even the larval stage is colored to look like unpalatable bird droppings. So, the next time your eye catches a glimpse of a butterfly do take the time to watch and enjoy its colorful show and reflect on its truly amazing life cycle.
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