Sipping Summer’s Sweetness

Despite the inevitable heat and humidity, August has its rewards. Here, an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail ( (Papilio glaucus) visits Sweet Pepperbush, or Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia): a deciduous shrub native to swampy woodlands, wet marshes, and stream banks.

Although found along the coast from Maine to Florida, and west into Texas, Summersweet’s native presence here is limited to a few counties in the area of the Big Thicket, where this photo was taken.

At first, I assumed I’d found a Black Swallowtail visiting the flowers, but I soon learned those butterflies have yellow spots on their bodies, while Tiger Swallowtails exhibit yellow streaks along each side of the thorax and abdomen. The existence of dark morphs like this one among the Tigers can make things even more confusing, but the sight of one is immensely enjoyable.


Comments always are welcome.
Note: Two readers have suggested that this little beauty actually is a Palamedes Swallowtail  (Papilio palamedes). I never had heard of that one, so I never considered it as a possibility. The Palamedes is common in Florida, so I’m interested to see what my Florida readers say. Some revision of the post may be necessary!

61 thoughts on “Sipping Summer’s Sweetness

    1. I was pleased when this one lingered long enough for me to move around and capture the underside of its body. Given the length of time it stayed put, those flowers must have been sweet indeed.

    1. Dark morphs of tiger swallowtails, white morphs of reddish egrets — it sure is the details that count! Good photos help, too. Being able to see the ‘undercarriage’ of this one helped me distinguish it from the others.

    1. I don’t become distraught if I can’t identify one, but I do enjoy knowing their names. The swallowtails seem easier to me, probably because of their distinctive patterns. I can distinguish monarchs and viceroys, but those little yellow and white ones? There are times when “little yellow butterfly” does just fine.

    1. It’s even more beautiful than I realized when I was photographing it. Most of the butterflies I see have a little wing tear here or some scale loss there, but this one seemed fresh from the chrysalis and still unblemished. Thanks for the compliment! I was more than happy with the photo.

    1. Its size is impressive, too. Swallowtails can be over five inches wide, and that helps to make their markings really stand out. They’re strong, fast flyers, and seem to enjoy their flitting, so finding one at rest was a real treat.

  1. We get Black Swallowtails in the yard and they lay their eggs on a box of parsley we grow in hopes of attracting them…and harvest a bit for cooking (the parsley!). I would have had the same first reaction as you, having never seen a dark morph of the Eastern. Very nice shot from my favorite angle for most wildlife, big and small. And a wonderfully pristine individual too.

    1. I’m glad you’re not cooking the swallowtails. Braised butterfly tips might be nice, but it would take far too many to make a meal.

      It never had occurred to me that there might be differently colored individuals of the same butterfly species. It happens with birds, of course, and probably with a good number of other creatures. I still might not be aware of it, had I not looked at that abdomen and wondered why it was striped and not dotted like a black swallowtail’s is “supposed” to be. Still, between BaMoNA and iNaturalist, I’m pretty sure of this ID.

      1. I read Tom’s comment and your response below so know that there was that third option. Something new every day and Tom does know his butterflies. Insects are a difficult challenge when it comes to IDs. So many have such subtle keys and there are many that require surgery for a positive one. Someone mentioned the other day that he is just happy to know it’s a butterfly (in this case) and there is some wisdom to that. Still we do like to be exact don’t we?.

        1. I do like knowing the names. Finding them is pleasurable, in the sense that it’s a form of puzzle solving, but I’ve also found that the more I know, the easier the identification of a new flower becomes. If nothing else, knowing what something isn’t is a good first step. If I can rule out a half dozen families at the start, it helps.

    1. If we put it on a calendar as Miss August, I’m sure it would draw some approving glances! I wish I had better definition of the whole proboscis, but perfection is hard to achieve. I’m just happy I found such a pristine example.

    1. As I so often say, there’s always something new to learn. One reason I enjoy trying to identify a natural ‘something’ for myself rather than just asking an expert is that all the dead-ends introduce me to things I’d never otherwise discover. Once I think I have the answer, I’ll often ask for confirmation, and of course it’s great fun to hear, “Yes — you’ve got it!”

  2. I was also impressed by the view of the swallowtail’s torso. We always focus on the butterfly’s beautiful wings and forget the body beneath the wings. I suppose there’s a more general lesson somewhere in there.

    1. I always enjoy seeing the way even the tiniest details on an insect seem to be so perfectly design-and-color coordinated. Of course, questions arise, too. Why should one butterfly body have dots, and another stripes? Why should this one have two rows of yellow, and that one three? That’s the point where I generally decide appreciation beats speculation, and reach for my camera.

  3. Wonderful capture, Linda! You’ve got such clarity in both the butterfly and the flower. I’ve seen butterflies lingering around my new wildflowers, but thus far, I’ve not been quick enough to get them to pose for me. I’m going to keep trying though!

    1. I’m thrilled that your flowers produced, and that the butterflies have found them. Given the number of butterflies and moths that I see, the number of decent photos I have is minimal. Keep trying! One thing I’ve learned is that cool temperatures and dew slow them down considerably. Looking around in the early morning may give you a better chance at a good photo.

    1. They’re all so beautiful. Do they enjoy your gingers? I’ve never thought of gingers as a butterfly magnet, but they might be. You certainly have plenty of other flowers to attract them.

    1. That it is. It was an accomodating jewel, too — willing to pin itself to that flower long enough for me to walk around a bit and manage one of my favorite butterfly photos.

  4. I’ve rather been of the persuasion that I don’t need to know the names of things, common or scientific. It would be different if I were biologic, or entomologic or otherwise “earth science-y.” But, I’m just a freehand appreciator. I will appreciate all comers, regardless of whether I know what (or who) they are or not. I also appreciate your taking their pictures for us to appreciate in this space. At the rate this poor old world is going to hell in a hand basket, pictures may be all we have left to appreciate.

    1. Well, how would you feel if no one knew your name? It might make things difficult, at best. I could roll into your home town and say, “Has anyone seen that woman?” When they asked which woman, I could say, “You know. The one who knits — she has a mother, too.” It could take a while to track you down! If I got to Main Street and asked for you by name, things would go a lot more smoothly.

      I take your point, of course. I’m not one who’s going to spend time dissecting insect genitalia to find out exactly which beetle it is, or pour through monographs to find out which taxonomic name “they” finally settled on. But when I started out with nothing but a camera and huge fields of native plants around me, all I could say was, “Ooooh. Pretty flower!” That was a great starting point, but it’s been a lot of fun learning those flowers names, and being able to track them down in their neighborhoods.

      Of course, I’m still willing to enjoy flowers (or butterflies, or beetles) on the most basic level, but I’ve found that knowledge increases appreciation — sometimes exponentially.

  5. I am far from expert in Texas butterflies, but Eastern Tiger Swallowtail is common in southern Ontario. This looks to me like Palamedes Swallow (Papilio palamedes).

    1. How interesting. I’ve never heard of the Palamedes Swallowtail, but it certainly is similar to this one. I wish I had both ventral and dorsal views; that would help. One thing I noticed is that even though the Palamedes does show up in Texas, there are almost no historic or detailed views of it on the BaMoNA map in the area where I took this photo, and only one sighting on iNaturalist from a few years ago. That doesn’t mean they aren’t there, of course; it’s only that there are far more sightings of the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail.

      I’ll make a note on the post itself, and hope to find another one this year. There’s still time, and that would help to sort things out. Also, I have a knowledgeable reader from Florida, where the Palamedes Swallowtails seem to be far more common than they are here. He might be able to add some clarification.

  6. Excellent image – love the sharp wing edges, the vivid colors, and the active pose.
    I think David is right, it’s Palamedes Swallowtail. The dark morph of Eastern Tiger Swallowtail has a single row of yellow dots on the forewing, and other marks are somewhat different. Dark form swallowtails are tough to identify, and there are so many swallowtail species in your area.

    1. And I thought flower identification was hard! I did find this useful page that shows four of the dark swallowtails together, with field marks indicated. I seem to have judged rightly that this one isn’t a Black or Pipevine Swallowtail — I just missed knowing there was another option other than a dark morph of the Eastern Tiger. In any event, I’m glad you like the image. I was pleased as could be that I’d found such a willing subject.

      1. Nevermind the ID, the image and seeing the butterfly are the thing.
        That web page is nice – it’s hard to find images of the underside, and the field marks are carefully distinguished. Those (Black, Eastern Tiger, Pipevine, Spicebush) are the butterflies I checked first, the ones I’ve seen up here. Palamedes is a butterfly I know only from books – and there are still more dark swallowtails in your area.

        1. After reading your comment last night, I spent two hours trying to run down a photo of a yellow swallowtail I recently found. When I realized I couldn’t find any photos from the morning, the light came on. I found the SD card, ran a deep recovery on it, and there they were. I have no idea how I erased them all, but I have them back.

          Anyway: yes. The seeing is the thing, but I do love learning the names. With flowers, I’ve gotten to the point where I sometimes think of the scientific name before the common name. I suppose it’s like learning a second language, and suddenly realizing that you’re thinking in it without having to translate.

          1. So glad you didn’t lose your images! You’re in the right state to chase after butterflies, there are many migrants from Mexico that can’t be found elsewhere in the US. Although butterfly ID can be tricky, at least the total number of species in North America is relatively small, nothing like plants. Just don’t get started on moths, that’s another story!

    1. I keep finding little things in the image to enjoy, like the way the proboscis arcs toward the flower, while the tips of the antennae point away from it. I wish the leaf tip at the bottom hadn’t been there, but we can’t have everything. Thanks for the good words. A cooperative subject certainly helped.

  7. Exquisite balance between butterfly and bloom, what a beautiful portrait. I was looking forward to seeing your post after spotting the comment you’d left on Mike Powell’s butterfly post!

    1. I’m so accustomed to seeing butterflies perched ‘on’ a flower, it took me a while to figure out that part of the appeal of this photo is the way the length of the flower and the length of the butterfly correspond. It’s perching ‘along’ the flower as much as ‘on.’ The size correspondence is great, too. Being able to get it all in focus was lagniappe!

    1. Aren’t those blue accents something? Everything about this little creature is perfection. As far as I can tell, it’s undamaged, and it fairly glowed in the light.

    1. ‘Summersweet’ sounds like it should be a melon, or another fruit of some sort. It brings this song to mind, too — and your summersweet days at the lake! If you want to give this one a try in watercolors, feel free — I’d love to see what you could do with it.

    1. I suspect you have plenty of ‘flutterbys’ around your place with all those glorious flowers. Put Dr. M on butterfly patrol and see what he can come up with. I bet he’d do very well. Bees are a little easier, but who doesn’t like a challenge?

    1. Those all are common here, too. On the other hand,the past two days I’ve noticed fairly good-sized yellow ones fluttering around: as many as two or three dozen in an hour. I wondered if they might be migrating, since I’m seeing them pass over the marinas and the lake. The fall Monarch migration often appears over our waters, too — they’re great fun to see.

    1. I wondered if you have any swallowtails at all, and the answer is “Yes, but…” They’re around, but rare. Here’s a neat article that shows where they can be found: the Norfolk Broads and Sussex. I suppose some luck’s involved, but if any show up in your area, you certainly have the parsley and carrots for them!

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