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Swallowtail butterflies invade the garden…

At the West Virginia Botanic Gardens, we nurture our gardens for many audiences. It starts with you, providing something natural that might make you smile.

From the very beginning, we have been developing our property to nurture wildlife while creating access for visitors to get closer to nature. Examples include our boardwalk that brings you through a wetland created by Jones Run. Another example is our Butterfly Garden, which features many native herbaceous perennials that bloom each summer and fall, becoming a haven for butterflies and bees.

Some of our most striking visitors are the large swallowtail butterflies in the family Papilionidae. While there are about 550 species of swallowtails worldwide, here in West Virginia, we have six species of these large butterflies. On any given day, you are likely to see many of these at the WVBG.

The most common swallowtail at the Garden is the eastern tiger swallowtail, Papilio glaucus. This beautiful black and yellow butterfly graces our airspace from April to September. Adults emerge in spring and start their annual lifecycle to produce at least two generations in our area before overwintering as a chrysalis — the metamorphic stage where the larva transforms itself into the adult butterfly.

To make things even more interesting for us, many of the swallowtails in our region mimic each other. In a process called Batsian Mimicry, different species imitate the coloration of a poisonous, distasteful species, providing a measure of protection since predators learn to avoid the poisonous butterfly, but then also avoid the mimics.

The swallowtail butterflies in our area mimic the pipevine swallowtail, Battus philenor, which sequesters aristolochic acids from its host plant, Dutchman’s pipevine, to make future life stages toxic. You can find these swallowtail larvae now feeding on the pipevine on the host shelter in the lower parking area. Look for leaves that have been eaten and you find the black, spiky caterpillars.

The tiger swallowtail has a more complex tale to tell. While primarily black and yellow, the female can take on color morphs where the yellow fades to black, and many individuals fall along a range where the yellow can look dusted with black. You can currently find tiger swallowtails that demonstrate this range of color at the WVBG.

See how many swallowtails you can sight during your next visit to the Garden!

FOR INFORMATION, MAPS, AND MORE, go to or visit at 1061 Tyrone Road in Morgantown.