Posts Tagged: Western Tiger Swallowtail
Two's company. Three's a crowd?
Sometimes we wish it were half a dozen.
Last July we were admiring two newly emerged Gulf Fritillary butterflies on Mexican sunflowers (Tithonia) when a Western Tiger Swallowtail fluttered down, seemingly out of nowhere, to occupy the same sunflower as one Gulf Frit.
The Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) and the Western Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio rutulus) eyed each other for a few seconds. Then in the way of the West ("This town isn't big enough for the both of us") the tiger spread its wings and took off.
A Western Tiger Swallowtail readies for a landing on the same flower occupied by a Gulf Fritillary. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Two's company. Three's a crowd? (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The Western tiger swallowtail (Papilio rutulus) is the kind of butterfly that combines steel with silk.
It's a tough critter. Often you'll see it with its wings clipped by a predator--maybe a bird or a praying mantis.
Then when you see it glide around, landing on Jupiter's beard, it's the epitome of grace.
The magnificent butterfly is found throughout much of western North America, from British Columbia to North Dakota in the north to Baja California and New Mexico in the south. We've seen it nectaring not only on Jacob's beard, but zinnias, Mexican sunflower (Tithonia), California buckeye but thistles, too.
Kite makers, dress makers and tattoo artists mimic this colorful yellow-winged butterfly with its bold black stripes and ll orange and blue spots on its swallow tail.
This one favored Jupiter's beard on Gates Canyon Road, Vacaville, but if you look closely you'll see that a predator tried to give it a clean shave.
Western tiger swallowtail, Papilio rutulus, glides on Jupiter's beard, Centranthus ruber. This one is missing part of its wing structure, no thanks to a predator. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The Western tiger swallowtail swoops down for a little nectar on Jupiter's beard. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Western tiger swallowtail sipping nectar from Jupiter's beard. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
If I were in charge of a praying mantis' daily diet, I would enforce one stringent rule: "Please don't eat the pollinators! Do not, I repeat, target the bees or butterflies. Leave them alone!"
The mundane menu would include flies, gnats, stink bugs, aphids, mosquitoes, yellowjackets, grasshoppers, leaffooted bugs and not much else.
But since I'm not likely to be employed as the chef of a praying mantis' diet, these predators can--and do--eat what they want.
This morning I encountered a praying mantis perched on a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia) in our bee garden. He saw me. He swiveled his head about 180 degrees as he followed me with his five keen eyes--two large compound eyes and three smaller simple eyes. Hmm, not potential prey. He went about "praying"--bending his front legs and "assuming the position."
Okay, I thought. "Go catch a fly, gnat, stink bug, aphid, mosquito, yellowjacket, grasshopper or leaffooted bug."
So, what did he catch? A beautiful Western tiger swallowtail (Papilio rutulus) which made the fatal mistake of landing on his flower.
Yes, a praying mantis has to eat. Yes, he was hungry. Yes, it's nature. But why not a stink bug?
He polished off a butterfly.
"Yummy!" declared a colleague.
A praying mantis eyes the photographer. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The praying mantis quickly snatches a Western tiger swallowtail. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The predator gripping his prey. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Predator polishing off his prey. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
It's a joy to see the anise swallowtail (Papilio zelicaon) fluttering around in community gardens, bee gardens and parks.
Last weekend in a Benicia community garden, we spotted this sunny butterfly, as identified by Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis, who monitors Central California butterflies and posts information on his website, Art's Butterfly World.
Its distinctive yellow, blue and blue colors remind us of the Western tiger swallowtail (Papilio rutulus).
Unlike the Western tiger swallowtail, however, the anise swallowtail has large patches of black on the front portion of its forewing.
You'll see the anise swallowtail around its host plant, anise, Foeniculum vulgare, a weed with a licorice scent. Anise swallowtails breed on the anise and poison hemlock, Conium maculatum, Shapiro says.
Last weekend in Benicia, the anise swallowtail took an interest in wild radish.
Check out the beautiful photos of the anise swallowtail on BugGuide.net, which says it was first described in 1852 by Hippolyte Lucas as Papilio zelicaon. That was during California's Gold Rush Days and a year later, in 1853, settlers introduced the European or Western honey bee to California.
Anise swallowtail visiting a community park in Benicia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Anise swallowtail foraging on wild radish. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
We have liftoff! Anise swallowtail leaves the wild radish. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Caterpillar of the anise swallowtail. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
You never know what you'll see on a purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea).
Honey bees. Check.
Sweat bees. Check.
But sometimes these rough-and-tumble blossoms are graced with a Western tiger swallowtail butterfly (Papilio rutulus).
This gorgeous yellow-and-black butterfly glides so delicately and so freely in our gardens that we want it to stay forever.
We spotted this one this morning in the half-acre Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a bee friendly garden on Bee Biology Road, University of California, Davis. The garden, owned and operated by the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, is next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility.
The garden is open from dawn to dusk. Bring a camera, a hat, some sunscreen, and enjoy lunch at one of the picnic tables in the garden.
Maybe, just maybe, a Western tiger swallowtail, will flutter by.
It's one of the little pleasures of life.
Western tiger swallowtail on a purple coneflower. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Western tiger swallowtail spreads its wings. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)