Big Butterflies #2: Dark Wings

eastern tiger swallowtail, dark morph: dorsal view, closeup showing markings on hindwings

While researching butterflies I learned that there are six dark-winged swallowtail species in Maryland: the black, giant, palamedes, pipevine, spicebush, and dark morph eastern tiger.

eastern tiger swallowtail, dark morph: ventral view showing hindwing markings

The dark winged butterfly that I had been shooting on joe-pye weeds [see previous post] was a dark morph eastern tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus). The dark morphs are always females.

eastern tiger swallowtail, dark morph: ventral view showing body


Several characteristics distinguish dark morphs from other butterflies with dark wings, but the one that’s a dead giveaway is the lack of white spots on the body.

eastern tiger swallowtail, dark morph: ventral view showing white “dashes” on wings





Also note that the white marks on the trailing edge of the forewing are elongated: dashes rather than spots.

dorsal view










It wasn’t until the next day, while I was shooting yet another species of butterfly (subject of a future post), that I saw what I thought was a spicebush swallowtail (Papilio troilus). I didn’t even realize at the time that’s what it was, because I was so focused on the other one that I didn’t stop to think that this particular butterfly was actually resting on a spicebush.

ventral view


Note the round spots on the body, and also the fingertip-shaped bluish markings at the trailing edge of the hindwing. The lack of a lighter patch in front of those blue marks indicates that this is a female. SEE UPDATE BELOW.

Spicebush swallowtails range from eastern Texas north into the Midwest and southern New England, and south into Florida. Several species of plants host the caterpillars, most notably spicebush (Lindera benzoin). Adults feed on quite a few different plant species, including some exotics; among the native species are milkweeds, dogbanes, and thistles.

another dorsal view

I’m totally kicking myself for not hopping the fence that was in my way to get better pictures. I’ve checked my spicebushes several times each day since then, but haven’t seen another butterfly on them.



giant swallowtail


Here’s a giant swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes) that I photographed in the eastern panhandle of West Virginia a few years ago. I’ve never seen one of these around my house; they are found in most of Maryland, but are fairly rare.


pipevine swallowtail

I believe this last one to be a pipevine swallowtail (Battus philenor). The plants it’s on are Aristolochia fimbriata, white-veined Dutchman’s pipe, a South American species that’s growing in the Enid A. Haupt Garden next to the Freer Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. Aristolochia species are hosts for the pipevine swallowtail, and so the gardeners in the Haupt and the nearby Mary Livingston Ripley Garden have been growing them for several years now, in order to attract the butterflies. Smithsonian Gardens has some wonderful spaces around the Mall, but I’m digressing.

UPDATE 8/22/18: The second butterfly is NOT a spicebush swallowtail. I failed to see something obvious. Pictured is the almost-identical red-spotted purple (Limenitis arthemis).

I checked many resources for help understanding butterfly identification; particularly useful sites included

Joe-Pyes Bring Big Butterflies

I closed last Wednesday’s post with a picture of a monarch butterfly on joe-pye weed, but that’s not the only butterfly I’ve been seeing around. Seems my little garden attracts quite a few types of butterflies, mostly because of the joe-pye weeds, but also because of some other plants. More on that in upcoming posts.

The camera had been on a tripod while I tried to get close-up shots of various flowers, but there was so much activity I finally gave up for awhile; taking the camera in hand, I started shooting butterflies instead.

This is a female eastern tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus), easily identified because nothing else in Maryland looks quite like it, with one exception: the Appalachian tiger swallowtail (Papilio appalachiensis), which is uncommon, only found in the western half of the state, and only flies from late April to early June.

The eastern tiger swallowtail is common and widespread in Maryland, flying in early May and again in August. Many types of trees can host the caterpillars, including wild cherry, sweet bay magnolia, and birch, each of which are growing not far from the joe-pye weeds in my garden.

The adults feed on a variety of flowers, sipping nectar through long proboscises.

The specimen pictured here is a female. The identifying characteristic is the blue spots on the hindwing; males have very little, or zero, blue on them.

Before wrapping up for the day I also took some shots of this dusky beauty. I was so happy, sure that I’d gotten a spicebush swallowtail. After all, there are several spicebushes nearby, so makes sense, right?

Yes, it makes sense, but I was wrong. This is not a spicebush swallowtail. More about that next time.


Bonus picture: cabbage white (Pieris rapae), I think.




Second bonus picture: the day after I finished writing this post, I spotted a male eastern tiger swallowtail. I had the wrong lens on the camera and the darned thing never stayed still; this is the best picture I could get. Note that there’s only a tiny amount of blue and orange spotting on it.

Who Loves Joe-Pye Weed?

I do, that’s who. And so do the butterflies.  Bent over examining some plant or other at ground level, I stood up to see something moving out of the corner of my eye.



Isn’t that adorable?  Pretty sure it’s a zabulon skipper (Poanes zabulon).


I was putting the camera away when another movement caught my eye.



That’s an eastern tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus).


This time I kept the camera out and kept shooting.  There was little time to fine-tune the settings (I shoot manual most of the time), but autofocus was my friend that morning.
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I was even able to get a ventral view!



Tomorrow, another butterfly visits joe-pye.