This popular butterfly, easy to recognize by its yellow, tiger-striped wings, is often specified as the eastern tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus glaucus) to distinguish it from similar western, Canadian, and Mexican subspecies.

State butterfly. The tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) became South Carolina’s official butterfly by an act signed into law by Governor Carroll Campbell on March 29, 1994. The General Assembly acted especially at the behest of the members of the Garden Club of South Carolina, who selected the butterfly “because it can be seen in deciduous woods, along streams, rivers, and wooded swamps, and in towns and cities throughout South Carolina.”

This popular butterfly, easy to recognize by its yellow, tiger-striped wings, is often specified as the eastern tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus glaucus) to distinguish it from similar western, Canadian, and Mexican subspecies. The eastern subspecies ranges throughout the American South and the eastern United States, north to the Great Lakes, and west to the Great Plains.

The earliest evidence of the butterfly in South Carolina came from the brush of the English naturalist Mark Catesby, who sojourned in the lowcountry in the 1720s. Engravings of Catesby’s watercolors of the tiger swallowtail appeared in his Natural History of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands (1732–1743).

Tiger swallowtails appear in South Carolina woods, fields, and gardens in early spring, and there are at least three or four generations every year. The adult has a wingspan from 3sto 6 inches across. Males are yellow with tiger striping, but females have two distinct color morphs: yellow and black. It is believed that females with black wing coloring mimic other black butterflies that are toxic, and this mimicry protects them from predators.

The caterpillar is bright green with two huge yellow eyespots on the head end. These give the larva an almost snakelike appearance, probably to discourage predators.

Mikula, Rick, and Caludia Mikula. Garden Butterflies of North America. Minocqua, Wis.: Willow Creek, 1997.

Opler, Paul A. A Field Guide to Eastern Butterflies. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1992.

Scott, James A. The Butterflies of North America. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1986.

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Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Eastern tiger swallowtail
  • Author David C. R. Heisser
  • Website Name South Carolina Encyclopedia
  • URL http://www.scencyclopedia.org/sce/entries/eastern-tiger-swallowtail/
  • Access Date December 19, 2018
  • Publisher University of South Carolina, Institute for Southern Studies
  • Original Published Date May 17, 2016
  • Date of Last Update September 19, 2016