One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

Nutmeg and I have been lurking over at one of those nature identification sites. We don’t know everything, but we like to look stuff up. Here’s a butterfly that was giving folks a hard time. Do you know what it is? Or even what it isn’t?

What it isn’t in nature is always a good start for identification!

We’ll check your ‘it’s nots’ in the comments and be back later with an identification!

This butterfly seems totally misnamed! It’s the Red-spotted Purple, a woodland butterfly that is trying to mimic the Pipevine swallowtail. It does that on he underside, which we unfortunately didn’t catch a photo of. But this entomology site at the University of Florida has a good shot, as does Butterflies and Moths of North America.

We don’t have photos of all the black butterflies our area, but here are a few. The Red-spotted Purple definitely isn’t a swallowtail–and there are several different dark swallowtails in our area of the Mid-Atlantic for it to mingle with.

The dark form of the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail.

The Black Swallowtail, with has orange spots with black dots in the center on the inside edge of the hind wing.

And the Spicebush Swallowtail, with blue crescents along the outside edge of the hind wing.

Be on the lookout for these differences–you may be seeing more different kinds of butterflies than you realize!

Still safe to visit the flowers!

After Ol’ Wally’s dramatic tale from yesterday, I decided the blog needed an uplifting moment–and butterflies seem to still fit that idea. No spicebush swallowtails or monarchs died during the time Hickory and I visited these flowers!

But we did find one juvenile hiding!

“As he well should!” Hickory chittered. “Birds. If you can’t trust them to stay out of your sunflower seeds, then when can you trust them?”


We just answered a regular reader’s question about the swallowtails we featured yesterday and thought perhaps we should show a comparison of all the swallowtails we happen to have photos of. We are by no means experts, and admit we have help from another reader–hi, Nancy!

The question was about the ‘dark phase’ being a Tiger Swallowtail. It is that same species, not a different one. The females are dimorphic, a biology term meaning they can have two forms, in this case, two colorations or phases. The scales that are normally yellow are a dark gray to black instead.

This should not be confused with Black Swallowtails, Pipevine Swallowtails and Spicebush Swallowtails, which are normally black. We should also point out that the dark phase here is an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail. From our research, we think it only occurs in the Eastern species. And, er, the the yellow ones we showed mineral sipping are Western Tiger Swallowtails. We were given those photos from our field correspondent in Colorado (remember Coney?) and actually didn’t put it together they were a different species. Sorry for any confusion that may have caused.

We won’t go into identification features here because it’s so complicated (which is why Nancy helps us) and there are better sites for that. We feel that if you know the possible names, you can look them up. So here we go with some comparison swallowtail photos, with names below the image!

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Western Tiger Swallowtail from Colorado. Note it does not have the blue above the ‘tails.’

dark phase Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

female Black Swallowtail

male Black Swallowtail

Spicebush Swallowtail

Zebra Swallowtail

Pale Swallowtail – also a species from Colorado

Tiger Swallowtail

Black phase Tiger Swallowtail

This butterfly looks more like the Spicebush Swallowtail we featured a month ago, and hardly like a Tiger Swallowtail, but it is the ‘dark phase Tiger Swallowtail’. If you compare, it has less blue than the Spicebush and the a faint ‘tiger’ striping.

So keep on your paws, er toes when you see these butterflies!

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there,

Any idea what this butterfly is…

Mystery #121

…and why is he sitting gone the bare ground instead of a flower?

I’ll check in with you later!


Like many butterflies, this male Spicebush Swallowtail is ‘sipping’ moisture from the ground to pick up minerals. They can’t get the nutrients and salts they need from flower nectar.

Spicebush Swallowtail

And how did we know it’s a male? The female has just a few blue scales on the top of its hind wings. The male has nearly solid color, blue to blue-green to green.