Overview

Brief Summary

The tiger swallowtail, or eastern tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) is a species of the papilionid butterfly family native to North America. It is large butterfly (wingspan 7.9 – 14 cms), and one of the most familiar butterflies in the eastern United States, where it is common in many different habitats. It flies from spring to fall, during which time it produces two to three broods. Adults feed on the nectar of many species of flowers. Males are yellow with four black "tiger stripes" on each fore wing. Females are dimorphic in coloration, and can be found in as either a yellow or black morph. The yellow morph is similar to the male, while the dark form, which has long been thought to mimic the poisonous pipevine (blue) swallowtail, (Battus philenor), is almost completely black.

The eastern tiger swallowtail lays her green eggs singly on hostplants in many woody plant families, most commonly on Magnoliaceae and Rosaceae (for example, poplars, mountain ash, birch, cherry, tulip tree, ash, basswood, apple, maple, willow, magnolia, and occasionally sassafras). Young caterpillars (first three instars) are brown and white, with a coloration pattern that mimics bird droppings to help protect it from predators. In later instars, caterpillars are green with two black, yellow, and blue eyespots on the thorax, thought to deter birds. Caterpillars reach a length of 5.5 cm.

(Brower 1958; Roof 1999; Hall and Butler 2011; Wikipedia 2011)

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North American Ecology (US and Canada)

Resident throughout North America (Scott 1986), except in the Western United States south of British Columbia and West of the Rocky Mountains. Habitats are DECIDUOUS WOODED AREAS. Host plants include species from many families. Hosts are usually trees or shrubs. Eggs are laid on the host plant singly. Individuals overwinter as pupae. There are are multiple flights each year with the approximate flight time MAY1-AUG30 in the northern part of the range and MAR1-NOV30 in the southern part of their range (Scott 1986). Some accounts include P. rutulus and P. canadiensis as subspecies (Scott 1986).
  • Scott, J. A. 1986. The butterflies of North America. Stanford University Press.
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Distribution

The eastern tiger swallowtail ranges from Alaska and the Hudsonian zone of Canada to the southern United States, east of the Rocky Mountains.

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native )

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occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations

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National Distribution

Canada

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Year-round

United States

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Year-round

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Global Range: (>2,500,000 square km (greater than 1,000,000 square miles)) Throughout the central and eastern United States, north to extreme southern Canada (Ontario at least), and west to the Rocky Mountains. In general replaced by P. CANADENSIS from about central New England, central Michigan and southern Wisconsin northward. Exact range of these two species still a bit uncertain since they were considered conspecific into the 1990s.

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Physical Description

Morphology

The forewing spans 4 to 7.6 cm. The males are yellow, with black tiger stripes. A large black border surrounds the edges of the wings. In Georgia, the coloring has more of an orange hint. The subspecies australis has been applied to these southeastern tiger swallowtails. Females are dimorphic. Some female swallowtails have the same color pattern as the males, while some are completely black. A variety of patterns between completely black, and yellow with black stripes can be seen in female swallowtails. These two extreme female colorings are thought to coexist because they both have equally beneficial effects. While the tiger striping causes a distracts predators, the dark coloring imitates the unpalatable blue swallowtail.

Other Physical Features: ectothermic ; bilateral symmetry

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Ecology

Habitat

This species occurs in nearly every area where deciduous woods are present, including towns and cities. It is most numerous along streams and river, and in wooded swamps.

Terrestrial Biomes: savanna or grassland ; forest ; mountains

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Comments: Adults can occur in any habitat, but primary breeding habitats are deciduous or mixed forests, woodlands, swamps or less often thickets, old fields with wild cherries, parks, or suburban areas with foodplants. Suburban areas may sometimes be ecological sinks rather than habitat since manicured lawns do not provide adequate pupation sites.

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Migration

Non-Migrant: No. All populations of this species make significant seasonal migrations.

Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).

Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.

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Trophic Strategy

Larvae are polyphagous, meaning they feed externally on the leaves of various woody plants. Foodplants include a variety of poplars, mountain ash, birch, cherry, tulip tree, ash, basswood, apple, maple, willow, magnolia, and occasionally sassafras.

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Comments: Larvae of this species and its relatives are oliogophagous and often use more than one family at a given locality. E.g. Dale Schweitzer has observed individual wild females ovipositing on both tulip tree and wild cherry (Prunus serotina) that were growing together in Pennsylvania and Connecticut, and these two species are probably the most commonly used foodplants in most of the range. In southern New Jersey, larvae are common on sweetbay (Magnolia viriginiana) and Robert Barber and Dale Schweitzer found about 20 on this and three on Prunus serotina In Cumberland County in September and October 2002. Sweetbay is also used widely in Florida (Scriber et al., 2001). Those three appear to be by far the major foodplants in most of the range, but others are used. Consult recent literature regarding other foodplants. Ashes might be somewhat important. Some old literature records repeated in books as recently as Gochfeld and Burger (1997), such as aspens, willows, birches, refer to Papilio canadensis. Use of these by a population is probably be diagnostic for P. canadensis and ovipositing females are an easy way to identify populations in Massachusetts

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Population Biology

Number of Occurrences

Note: For many non-migratory species, occurrences are roughly equivalent to populations.

Estimated Number of Occurrences: > 300

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Global Abundance

10,000 to >1,000,000 individuals

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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Adults feed mainly from nectar or carrion. Males patrol for females (Scott, 1986).
  • Scott, J. A. 1986. The butterflies of North America. Stanford University Press.
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Cyclicity

Comments: This tiger swallowtail appears to be obligately at least bivoltine and there are three or four broods in the southern parts of the range. The spring brood is quite protracted due to both staggered eclosion of adults and individual longevity of at least occasionally up to four weeks (Schweitzer). Spring broods typically start about May 1 and persist through June and some years even into early July in Connecticut and fly through much of April into June in southernmost parts of New Jersey where the second brood is mainly in July and August. There might be a partial third brood in southern New Jersey where adults can be very common for at least the first half of September and later some years like 2002. It is not definitely known whether some first brood pupae enter hibernal diapause in June or July, which is the case for a majority of bi- or trivoltine Macrolepidoptera reared by Schweitzer in South Jersey. It is well known that some other swallowtails do this. There are no reports of pupae overwintering more than once.

Based on observations of wild larvae and outdoor rearings in southern New Jersey eggs must be laid by about September 10-15 for the larvae to have a good chance of completing development by leaf fall. Unless their host drops its leaves early larvae that reach last instar in October can potentially survive. Larvae from late September females mature in November or December, if at all. Larvae are present in southern New Jersey (39 degrees North) from May through most of October with stragglers at least into November. They occur earlier and later farther south. Fall last instars are very tolerant of freezing nights (down to at least -4C) and position themselves in direct sun usually in a slightly rolled leaf which makes a parabolic reflector. They can feed (not necessarily every evening) and grow slowly in sunny periods when highs are only around 8-12C and they feed daily and grow fairly rapidly in sunny weather when days reach 15C. In fall feeding tends to be in late afternoon and evening (down to about 6C). Larvae may leave their silk resting pad in order to position themselves in more direct sun.

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Reproduction

Eastern tiger swallowtails reach maturity in the spring. Many generations are produced each year and the last mature butterflies remain into mid-autumn.

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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Barcode data: Papilio glaucus

The following is a representative barcode sequence, the centroid of all available sequences for this species.


There are 36 barcode sequences available from BOLD and GenBank.

Below is a sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.

See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen and other sequences.

AATCATAAAGATATTGGAACATTATACTTTATTTTTGGAATTTGAGCAAGAATATTAGGAACTTCTTTA---AGTTTATTAATTCGAACTGAATTAGGAACTCCAGGTTCTTTAATTGGAGAT---GACCAAATTTATAATACTATTGTAACAGCTCATGCTTTTATTATAATTTTTTTTATAGTTATACCAATTATAATTGGAGGATTTGGAAATTGACTAGTACCTTTAATA---TTAGGGGCACCTGATATAGCCTTTCCTCGAATAAATAATATAAGATTTTGACTTTTACCCCCTTCTTTAACTCTTTTAATTTCAAGAATAATTGTTGAAAGTGGAGCTGGAACTGGATGAACTGTTTATCCCCCTCTTTCTTCCAATATCACTCATGGAAGAAGATCAGTAGATTTA---GTTATTTTTTCCCTTCATTTAGCAGGGATTTCTTCAATTTTAGGAGCAATTAATTTTATTACTACAATTATTAATATACGAATTAATAATATATCATTTGATCAAATACCTTTATTTGTTTGAGCTGTTGGAATTACAGCTTTATTATTACTTCTTTCATTACCTGTTTTAGCTGGA---GCTATTACAATACTATTAACAGATCGAAACTTAAATACATCATTTTTTGATCCTGCAGGAGGGGGAGATCCAATTTTATATCAACATTTATTTTGATTCTTTGGTCACCCAGAAGTTTATATTTTAATTTTACCTGGATTTGGAATAATTTCTCATATTATTTCTCAAGAAAGAGGAAAAAAG---GAAACATTTGGATGTTTAGGTATAATTTATGCTATAATAGCAATTGGATTATTAGGATTTATTGTTTGAGCTCATCATATATTTACAGTAGGAATAGATACAGATACTCGAGCTTATTTTACCTCAGCAACAATAATTATTGCAGTTCCTACTGGGATTAAAATTTTTAGATGATTA---GCAACTCTTCATGGAACT---CAAATTAATTATAGTCCATCAATTTTATGAAGTTTAGGATTTGTATTTCTATTTACAGTAGGAGGATTAACTGGAGTAATTTTAGCTAACTCTTCTATTGATGTTACCTTACATGATACATATTATGTAGTAGCTCATTTTCATTATGTT---TTATCTATAGGAGCTGTATTTGCTATTATAGGAAGATTTATTCATTGATACCCATTATTTACCGGTCTTTCTTTAAATCCTTATCTTTTAAAAATTCAATTTTTTACAATATTTTTTGGAGTAAATTTAACCTTTTTTCCCCAACATTTCTTAGGATTAGCTGGAATACCTCGC---CGATATTCAGATTATCCTGATAATTTTACC---TCATGAAATATTATTTCTTCTTTTGGATCTTATATTTCTTTATTGTCATTAATAATAATAATAATAATTATTTGAGAATCAATAATTAATCAACGAATTATT---TTATTTTCTCTTAATATACCATCATCT
-- end --

Download FASTA File

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Statistics of barcoding coverage: Papilio glaucus

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 35
Specimens with Barcodes: 56
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

The eastern tiger swallowtails are not yet threatened by human impact on their ecosystem.

US Federal List: no special status

CITES: no special status

State of Michigan List: no special status

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National NatureServe Conservation Status

Canada

Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure

United States

Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure

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NatureServe Conservation Status

Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure

Reasons: Ranges over most of the eastern United States and considered common and secure in most states. Very adaptable species.

Environmental Specificity: Broad. Generalist or community with all key requirements common.

Comments: Can breed successfully in almost any habitat with foodplants except probably generally not manicured lawns which lack safe pupation sites. Most abundant in hardwood froests and mixed swamps.

Other Considerations: this species should be favorably impacted by global warming and should soon spread northward.

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Global Short Term Trend: Relatively stable (=10% change)

Global Long Term Trend: Decline of 30-50%

Comments: Has obviously lost significant habitat since 1700.

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Threats

Degree of Threat: Low

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Management

Global Protection: Many to very many (13 to >40) occurrences appropriately protected and managed

Needs: None, common and widespread.

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Names and Taxonomy

Taxonomy

Comments: Papilio canadensis has been generally regarded as a separate species since Hagen et al. (1992). However more recent studies (Scriber et al., 2003) may force a reinterpretation of that status. See comments for that species. Subspecies australis found mainly in the coastal plain from extreme southern Virginia southward appears rather distinctive. It is very unlikely that it is a heat induced phenotype as some have suggested since it is not produced in nearby regions like the inland Carolinas or in southern New Jersey during abnormally hot summers and some parts of the range of subspecies glaucus have hotter summers than those in the range of australis. See Wright and Pavulaan (2002) for a review. Only time will tell if Papilio appalachiensis which they name in that article will be generally accepted as a valid species. Most authors consider the Mexican alexiares a subspecies.

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