Sunday, August 22, 2010

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

It is easy to mistake this tiny caterpillar for a dried up bit of bird droppings. Clever disguise! It helps the little guy get through the treacherous early stages of caterpillar life when many are snatched up and eaten by birds.

A closer look reveals the caterpillar behind the disguise. This one is feasting on a lilac leaf. Eventually it will grow into the beautiful eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly, Papilio glaucus.

This one is a female -- the males have a few small spots of blue where she has those extensive blue patches on her hind wings. Take a close look and you will see that her wing edges are damaged; she may have escaped a bird  attack, or been tossed by rough winds.  As butterflies age their wings get worn and tattered.

Eastern tiger swallowtail butterflies sip nectar from a variety of flowers, including wild cherry and lilac blossoms. They don't mind urbanization so we see them in city parks and yards, and sometimes flying incongruously through the concrete canyons. This one was visiting the Shakespeare Garden in Manhattan's Central Park.

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