When winter hits and food becomes scarce, animals have three choices: migrate, hibernate or resist. All animals require food, water, shelter and space – we call this habitat. If you can provide some or all of these needs then you’ll likely get the animal you want to visit or live near your home.
Butterflies have four stages in their life and different habitat needs during these stages. Let’s start with the adult tiger swallowtail.
Tiger Swallowtail Adult:
An adult tiger swallowtail has a long, tube-like tongue, called a proboscis, which is used to suck nectar from a flower. But not just any type flower. There are some basic reasons why butterflies choose one flower over another.
– Butterflies and flowers have adapted to each other’s needs – the insect needs nectar and the plant needs pollen carried to female flowers. The result is a flower that fits a butterfly, and an insect that will go to a lot of flowers from the same species (it doesn’t help a flower to get pollen from a different species of plant – it won’t form a seed).
– Butterflies can see bright colors, especially red. They can also smell with their antennae, and that helps them find nectar.
– Butterflies like to land on flowers that grow in clusters and walk around, probing each individual flower with its proboscis.
So butterflies often (but not always) land on brightly colored flowers that grow in clusters. Make sense? And tiger swallowtails like these flowers the best: butterfly bush, milkweed, honeysuckle (a native species is sempervirens), phlox, ironweed, wild cherry and lilac.
Egg and Caterpillar (or larva):
The female tiger swallowtail lays its eggs on wild cherry, ash, lilac, aspen, birch or chokecherry. Why these plants? Well, each egg hatches into a caterpillar. What does the caterpillar stage of the swallowtail like to eat? Correct – leaves from these plants. It must be nice to hatch out of your egg and be in a restaurant!
Caterpillar & butterfly Pupa:
When the caterpillar is fully grown it weaves a chrysalis around itself, and enters a resting stage – it doesn’t eat or drink. We call this stage the pupa. The chrysalis is attached to a plant stem. The pupa transforms into a butterfly while inside the chrysalis, and after several weeks bursts out, a full grown adult.
So you want to tame a tiger? These swallowtails are fairly common, so you’re likely to see them if you provide some food for the adult or the caterpillar. Chances are good the tiger will show up. See the Lynx section for help on butterfly gardens.