Scarce swallowtail

On my walk the other day, I came across a gorgeous swallowtail butterfly perched on a summer-dead thistle. She had the kind of flawless, shining perfection that only comes from a newly-emerged butterfly. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my camera with me, and cursed that fact because this butterfly sat motionless even though I approached within a meter.

This photo by Deviant Art user elminino is a nice example, but still isn’t as perfect as the one I saw.

scarce swallowtail

Turns out it’s very hard to find an image of this butterfly with both tails intact and the black wing stripes undimmed by scratches or loss of scales. In general, large butterflies only look flawless when they first emerge from their chrysalis, because it doesn’t take much flying around to start getting banged up.

The full name for this gorgeous creature is the Southern Scarce Swallowtail, and there’s no agreement on whether it’s a subspecies of the Scarce Swallowtail (in which case it is named Iphiclides podalirius feisthamelii), or a species of its own (Iphiclides feisthamelii).

Caterpillars feed on fruit trees such as almonds, apricots, and cherries, so it’s probably no coincidence that I found mine right next to an almond orchard. She likely emerged from a green pupal form, because here in southern Europe, caterpillars of this species tend to pupate in two different forms: green before August, and brown after August. The green forms are found on the food source and develop directly into adults. The brown forms set themselves up in the leaf litter during the hottest, driest time of year and then go into diapause, which can be thought of as a kind of suspended animation. They hang out until the rains have returned and food sources are growing again, and then finish developing and emerge to mate and lay eggs.

I’ll take my camera on my next walk, which is of course a guarantee that I won’t see hide nor hair of another Southern Scarce Swallowtail.

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About Fletcher DeLancey

Socialist heathen and Mac-using author of the Chronicles of Alsea, who enjoys pondering science, politics, well-honed satire (though sarcastic humor can work, too) and all things geeky.
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4 Responses to Scarce swallowtail

  1. Alma says:

    Oh my, these are so beautiful! The wonderful professor emeritus at my department bought eggs from them last year and raised. The larvae are the absolute best! Cutest, cuddliest larvae ever. You must google them. They’re like little squishy pillows. 😀 I’m so envious of you for seeing one in the wild.

    • You made my day with “little squishy pillows.” And only a true biology geek would refer to cuddly larvae. I get it and I totally love it. 😀

      • Alma says:

        But they were! Just before pupation, they start roaming, and me and Maertha found one far from the host plants. So we cuddled it immensely before putting it back… So squishy and velvety and awww! 😀

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