This gorgeous butterfly is a Zebra Swallowtail (Eurytides marcellus) they are typically found in woodlands where Paw Paw trees are found. Paw Paw's are the host plant for the caterpillars of this species. They are found throughout the Eastern United States as well as the Gulf States. They can even be found in parts of Canada. These butterflies are medium to large in size with wingspans up to 3 1/2 inches. Their distinctive coloring makes them easy to identify and almost impossible to mistake for any other species, especially in the Midwestern states. In the spring the adults tend to be smaller in size and will often times be seen flying in small groups through the timber. In the summer their size is noticeably larger and their coloring is darker and more brilliant. Even with such a large range they rarely leave the timbered areas where the host plants is found. They do not adapt well to suburban growth and development.
After mating, the female will lay her eggs on the Paw Paw Tree. When the caterpillar hatch they will consume their own eggshell for extra nutrients.Occasionally the caterpillars may be cannibalistic and consume their siblings or rival caterpillars on the same tree. Once they reach full size they will form their cocoon and overwinter in this stage. Emergence occurs in early spring here in NW Missouri. I saw the first one this year at Squaw Creek NWR about 2 weeks ago. The adults will nectar at a wide variety of flowers. They are even capable of consuming pollen that they are able to absorb. They turn this pollen into proteins that give them extra nutrition and allows them to live and breed longer.
This butterfly, unlike many other of our swallowtails, do not mimic any poisonous butterflies, nor are they poisonous themselves.
The one pictured here was captured in flight as she mated. I released her and she flew to this elderberry bush and rested. I captured these images before she took flight. The male was kept and added to my collection. I knew she had mated, therefore would have fertile eggs, it only seemed right to let her go to continue her lineage. I am always excited to see these amazingly beautiful butterflies each year. I believe they may just be my favorite flying flower.
AN INDIAN BUTTERFLY LEGEND
Should anyone desire a wish to come true they must
capture a butterfly and whisper that wish to it.
Since they make no sound, they can't tell the wish
to anyone but the Great Spirit
So by making the wish and releasing the butterfly
it will be taken to the heavens and be granted