Eastern tiger swallowtail, a butterfly state symbol?

by Tyler Roberts
Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Lumina News file photo

The state House has voted to name the eastern tiger swallowtail the official state butterfly.

The eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly may become the newest North Carolina state symbol due to the efforts of the local Cape Fear Garden Club.

A bill introduced to the state legislature this week recognizing the butterfly as a state symbol has already passed through second and third readings in the House as of Wednesday, June 6, and was headed to the Senate.

The effort to recognize the eastern tiger swallowtail as a state symbol was initiated by the garden club in September 2011. Now, after months of promotion, hundreds of emails to garden clubs around the state, and many trips to the offices of elected officials, the club’s effort is about to come to fruition.

"Hopefully it is going to fly right through," said Frances Parnell, co-chair of the Cape Fear Garden Club’s state butterfly symbol committee.

The decision to choose the eastern tiger swallowtail as the state symbol was an easy one, Parnell said. The club had to sort through 175 candidate species that are known to live in North Carolina. From that large group, the club wanted to promote a butterfly that was present in all of the state’s counties. Club members whittled down the candidate species until they came upon the eastern tiger swallowtail.

The species was the chosen candidate for several reasons, but the primary motivation to do so was based on its prominence and visibility throughout the state.

"If it was going to be a state symbol, we wanted it to be a butterfly that everyone would be able to see and that was easy to recognize," Parnell said.

While the eastern tiger swallowtail is abundant in New Hanover County, its notoriety is statewide. Common habitats range from mixed woods, rivers, creeks, roadsides and urban gardens. The species’ preference for open, sunlit areas provides onlookers with an abundance of opportunities to catch a glimpse.

With a wingspan between 3.5 and 5 inches and a bright yellow back with black strips, the eastern tiger swallowtail is easily identified by gardeners, seasoned butterfly watchers and school children alike, Parnell said.

The butterfly is attracted to specific plants at the different phases of its life. As a caterpillar, the butterfly is attracted to the tulip tree, black cherry and sweet bay. After metamorphosis, the eastern tiger swallow tail is attracted to an array of nectar plants, but is partial to tall herbs like Joe-pie-weed, ironweed and milkweed.

The eastern tiger swallowtail is observed the most between spring and fall each year. Females are typically searching for a place to lay eggs and males fly high searching for the females.

Parnell said that she attempted to contact Senator Thom Goolsby on the morning of Wednesday, June 6 about the status of the bill. A spokesperson from his office told Parnell that there was no new information about the bill at that time.

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