Monday, August 27, 2007

Giant Swallowtail in Thomasburg

I first saw this butterfly on a couple of occasions a couple of weeks ago--"what a big swallowtail that is," I thought to myself, "Not a tiger swallowtail either, and look at that strange yellow body..." Surely such a big swallowtail must be a Giant Swallowtail. But the Giant is a southern species, not known, I thought, in Canada, beyond the Carolinian region. I didn't get a photo then, but I checked the guides, and wrote to the Eastern Ontario Nature List. The Giant in the guides looked like my butterfly I thought, but I wanted to see it again to be sure. And the response I got from the List was that there were records for Prince Edward County (well, sure, that's pretty Carolinian in its way), and for Belleville (Belleville is a mere 25 km south of Thomasburg, and aside from being on the shores of Lake Ontario, not terribly different zone wise). Another post to the list this morning reported many sightings of Giant Swallowtails this past weekend on the south shore of Prince Edward County.
Finally, today, another giant swallowtail, again at mid-day, again on my mother's beautiful buddleia (beloved of butterflies). And this big butterfly was indeed the Giant Swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes)

Papilio cresphontes on Buddleia

Food plants for the larvae of this butterfly include Common Hoptree (Ptelea trifoliata) and Prickly Ash (Xanthoxylum americanum). We have a couple of specimen plantings of Common Hoptree (aka Wafer Ash), a species at risk in the small range of Ontario where it occurs naturally (here's a range map). We are growing it outside of its range here--but so far, so good. In more southern regions the Giant Swallowtail larva feeds on citrus, and is known as the Orange Dog, not well-loved by citrus growers. The leaves of the hoptree are said to have a citrusy smell when crushed. (I'll have to go check when I'm done here.) The Prickly Ash is very "citrusy" in a number of ways. They both come by it honestly, being members of the Rue family (Rutaceae) along with oranges and lemons etc.

Fruit of the Prickly Ash


burning silo said...

Great to hear that you got a photo and confirmed a sighting for your area! Beautiful butterfly. I kind of wish they would show up around Ottawa, but we're probably too far north, although there are prickly ash in some parts of the region.

Pamela Martin said...

I will be trying to find out more about this butterfly to see what explains the range expansion. I have the impression that you folks up the Ottawa Valley see southern species sooner than we north of the lakes see them, in spite of being further north (I think of the Tufted Titmouse and Shagbark Hickory, for example) but this seems to be a case where a species came along the north shore of Lake Ontario and drifted up from there.

Interesting stuff--always tempting to think, "Aha! Global warming." But of course the effects of climate change are not universally good for species expanding into more northern regions--some are affected very badly by a lack of good snow cover, for example. So much complexity, so little time.

Anonymous said...

Interesting, only late last week I read on Terry Sprague's site that Giant Swallowtails have been seen in Prince Edward County.

A few days later ... here is a URL to the images.

Unfortunately the quality leaves something to be desired; the pics were taken "on the fly".

Unknown said...

Pamela: Nice work on this weblog!

May as well make a blog of my own ... clicking on my user name should to link to the Giant Swallowtail images.

Aparna said...

Fruit of the Prickly Ash's picture is very beautiful

viagra online said...

Awesome picture, I love the simple life these animals have, they just fly around looking for the next meal.

Anonymous said...

I just saw one of these fabulous butterflies in my garden in Kingston. Without your clear photo I would have doubted what I saw.


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