Autumn Butterflies

Temperatures finally dropped here in Augusta, Georgia, making my frequent jogging much easier. A rainy August followed by a dry September must have created good conditions for butterflies because I’ve been seeing a multitude of them during my jogs. At least 3 species flutter about the roadsides in my neighborhood. I already wrote about gulf fritillaries (Agraulis vanilae) a few years ago. (See: https://markgelbart.wordpress.com/2018/08/21/gulf-fritillary-and-passion-flower-vine/ ) Giant sulphurs (Phoebis sennae) are big yellow butterflies easy to identify. In their larval caterpillar stage they feed upon legumes such as partridge pea and vetch, both of which are fairly common in my neighborhood.

Adult and larval stages of the giant sulphur butterfly.
Adult and larval stages of the black swallowtail butterfly.
Adult and larval stages of the tiger swallowtail butterfly. The above photo is of the dark phase of this species. Most specimens are yellow with stripes.

The 3rd species I’ve been seeing is either the dark phase of the tiger swallowtail (Pteraurus glaucus) or the eastern black swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes). They won’t stay still long enough, while I’m jogging to identify them, though I’ve positively identified both in my backyard in the past. I suppose I could chase the ones I’ve been seeing during my jogs and catch them with a butterfly net to identify which species is fluttering about, but that is too much trouble. I think they are probably tiger swallowtails which are normally yellow with black stripes and easy to identify, but they do come in a dark phase similar in appearance to black swallowtails. The larval caterpillar stage of the eastern black swallowtail feeds upon plants in the carrot and citrus families. Tiger swallowtail caterpillars feed upon a wide range of plants including foliage of cherry, tulip, and magnolia. Wild black cherry trees are a common component of the local woods. Scientists believe the dark phase of tiger swallowtails mimics the appearance of pipevine swallowtails, a species of butterfly that tastes bad to birds. This mimicry reduces predation. Adult butterflies don’t eat solid food, but get their nutrients from flower nectar, feces, and minerals dissolved in mud puddles.

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