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Zebra Swallowtail is a beautiful species of swallowtail butterfly mainly found in different regions of United States. The black and white striped pattern of these beautiful butterflies resembles the coloration of zebras. The Zebra Swallowtail Butterflies are rarely found far from the pawpaw shrubs.
The butterflies of this species have a unique wing-shape along with long tails. Their distinctive appearance makes them easy to identify.
Color: Their white or greenish white wings are striped with black longitudinal bands. There are two blue spots in the corner of the inner margin of their hind wings. These wings also have a red spot near the body of this butterfly. There is a long red stripe running along the middle of their ventral hind wings. These butterflies have two different forms for the seasons of summer and spring. Their spring form is smaller and whiter while they appear much larger with broad black stripes on their wings during summer. The caterpillars of this species are green or black.
Wingspan: The wingspan of these butterflies ranges from 2.5 inches to 4.1 inches (6.4 to 10.4 cm).
Shape: They have triangular wings.
Tail: These butterflies have a pair of sword like tails extending from their hind wings. The black tails are short and tipped with white during spring. During summer, the tails appear much longer and graceful with wide white borders.
These butterflies are native to the eastern regions of US and southeastern Canada. Their distribution range extends from the southern parts of Ontario and Michigan along the coast of Atlantic to the Gulf States and Florida.
Various species of pawpaw shrubs are the host plants for the Zebra Swallowtail Butterflies. They do not usually wander far from their host plants. They inhabit southern pine woodlands, deciduous woodlands, savannas and prairies where these trees grow. These swallowtail butterflies prefer intact woodland habitats much more than developed areas.
Adult butterflies of this species sip flower nectar using their proboscis (a straw-like organ). Like other butterfly species these adult butterflies do not have jaw. Sometimes they use their proboscis to collect pollen from various flowers. Digesting these pollens helps them to absorb protein which gives them extra nutrition and energy for reproduction. They feed on different flowers including lilac, blackberry, verbena and redbud. Male Zebra Swallowtail Butterflies obtain various nutrients through the practice of puddling that help them in reproduction.
The caterpillars feed on eggshells after hatching. They also eat the long leaves of their host pawpaw plants. Some caterpillars even feed on other caterpillars living in the same plants.
They have some interesting behavior patterns:
- This species flies between 2 feet and 6 feet (0.5 and 1.8 meters) above the ground.
- These butterflies visit various flowers from different families including brassicaceae, lythraceae, apocynaceae, fabaceae, polemoniaceae and rosaceae.
- The female Zebra Swallowtail Butterflies fly slowly when looking for appropriate host plants.
- During mating seasons, the male butterflies of this species fly swiftly near host plants searching for females.
- These male butterflies are known to participate in “puddling” which means individual butterflies gathering together on moist soil, gravel and sand to obtain amino acids and salts.
Invertebrates like spiders, ants and different types of wasps feed on this butterfly species.
Their adaptive features help them to survive in their natural habitat:
- The bold black stripes of these butterflies, along with their low erratic flight make it hard for predators to follow and capture them.
- The larvae of this species have an orange y-shaped gland on their neck called osmeterium. This gland gives off an unpleasant odor helping them to avoid predators.
- Unlike many other species swallowtails, this species have shorter proboscis. Due to this reason they prefer flat small flowers.
These swallowtail butterflies are found in the northern regions of their distribution range between late March and August. They can be seen in their southern distribution areas between February and December.
The male Zebra Swallowtail Butterflies look for mate during warm days near pawpaw plants. After mating the female butterflies find suitable larval host plants to lay eggs. They lay the eggs singly on the leaves or trunks of pawpaw due to the cannibalistic nature of their larvae.
This species produces two broods (young produced during one hatching) in the northern regions of their habitat while they have three to four broods in the south. The first brood of each reproductive season is the largest in number.
The eggs are pale green in the initial stage turning orange-brown as they mature. Young caterpillars are black with light transverse stripes on their body. Older larvae are commonly green banded with white and yellow. Black larvae transversely striped with white and orange are rarer. The larvae take somewhere around a month to develop and turn into an adult butterfly.
They have an average lifespan between 5 and 6 months.
These butterflies are fairly easy to take care of. It is quite entertaining as well as educative to watch them passing through various stages of their lifecycle.
Housing: The caterpillars of this species should be housed in their host pawpaw plant. The whole plant should be covered with a soft net to prevent the caterpillars from escaping. Adult butterflies should be housed around flower plants from which they can easily collect nectar. They should ideally be housed with flowers like lilac, verbena and blackberry. It is important to cover the flower plants along with the host plants.
Feeding: The larvae feed on the leaves of their host plants while adult Zebra Swallowtails collect nectar and pollen from the flowers of the other plants they are housed with.
Caring: They do not need much tending and handling. However, one should provide them with proper host plants and flowering plants from which they will get their food.
Find out some interesting facts about this species:
- They are the official state-butterfly of Tennessee, United States.
- Their zebra like coloration earned them the name Zebra Swallowtail.
- The lifespan of these swallowtail butterflies is longer than most other butterfly species.
Here are some images of these graceful attractive butterflies.