Floridata Article

Zebra Swallowtail (Eurytides marcellus)

Zebra Swallowtail
The lovely zebra swallowtail nectaring on butterfly bush.
Habitat: Rich woodlands, pine flatwoods, pastures, and old fields Garden Abundance: Occasional Wingspan: 2.5 to 4.0in Larval Host Plants: Pawpaw (Asimina triloba) and other species of Asimina Favorite Adult Nectar Sources: Chickasaw Plum (Prunus angustifolia), Redbud (Cercis canadensis), Butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa) and Blackberry (Rubus spp.)

The extremely long, picturesque tails of the zebra swallowtail make it one of the most beautiful and recognizable butterflies in North America. Common in open woodlands and along forest edges, it relies solely on native pawpaws (Asimina spp.) as larval host plants.

The zebra swallowtail’s conspicuous black and white striped pattern is an excellent example of disruptive “flicker fusion pattern” coloration. The bold stripes, combined with a low, erratic flight, make it difficult for would-be predators to follow.

In contrast to most other swallowtail butterflies, the zebra swallowtail has a relatively short proboscis (the tube-like tongue through which butterflies sip nectar). As a result, the zebra swallowtail is more attracted to small, flat flowers than to flowers with long tubes. Males often gather in large numbers at mud puddles or damp ground to obtain salts and nutrients. The youngest caterpillars are black; older ones can be green or brown but always have one or more blue, black and yellow cross bands. When disturbed, the zebra swallowtail caterpillar humps up its body and displays the largest blue, black and yellow stripe across its “shoulders” and sticks out its foul-smelling “scent horns” (technically called osmentaria) from the base of the head. The caterpillars are cannibalistic.

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