The picture to the right represents the achievement of one of my most cherished butterfly spotting goals: seeing my first Zebra Swallowtail in the wild. For some people, this gorgeous butterfly is a common sight, but for others, like me, this was a rare experience, one that I’ve only had a handful of times since this picture was taken. It’s not a perfect specimen, nor is it a great picture, but the thrill that came with spotting this little guy made that afternoon one to remember.
The Zebra Swallowtail (Eurytides marcellus) is Tennessee’s state butterfly and is found throughout the eastern U.S. The caterpillars of this species eat only one kind of plant – pawpaw (Asimona spp.), and as a result this butterfly is a common sight where there are large groves of this plant. In other areas, they are spotted only occasionally, but are hard to mistake when they do appear. No other butterfly in our part of the country has the distinct black and white markings and long tails, shown in better detail below.
Any butterfly gardener in the eastern U.S. can hope to see these butterflies drinking from nectar plants. For a better chance at drawing these beauties, you can try to establish some pawpaw in your yard. The problem is, pawpaw is slow-growing, difficult to start from seed, and even more difficult to transplant due to a very deep taproot (learn about my own experience with this plant here). However, butterfly lovers may still want to try it – learn more about the different species here to choose the one best suited to your region.
Do you often see Zebra Swallowtails in your yard or nearby? Do you grow lots of pawpaw? Tell us about your experiences in the comments, and help others spot this amazing butterfly!
Every weekend, the Focus on Natives segment highlights a plant, bird, or butterfly native to the Southeastern U.S. Know of a particular species you’d like to see featured here? Make your suggestions in the comments section below.