Recently while driving to the Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge I stopped by one of my favorite parks just northwest of the refuge office to see if the butterflies were getting nectar from the lilac bushes in the area. As I walked through the bright green grass in the beautiful park I noticed many butterflies flying around the beautiful purple fragrant lilac, almost dancing in the spring air.
The zebra swallowtail is a beautiful species of butterfly found in North Idaho and various regions of the United States. The black and white striped pattern of these beautiful butterflies resembles the coloration of zebras. Their white or greenish white wings are striped with black longitudinal bands. There are two blue spots in the corner of the inner margin of their hind wings. These wings also have a red spot near the body.
These butterflies have two different forms for the seasons of summer and spring. Their spring form is smaller and whiter, while they appear much larger with broad black stripes on their wings during summer. The caterpillars of this species are green or black.
The zebra swallowtail have “tails” reminiscent of the tail of a swallow — hence the name “Swallowtail.” The black tails are short tipped with white during spring. During summer, the tails appear much longer and graceful with wide white borders. The wingspan of these butterflies ranges from 2.5 to 4.1 inches.
Nothing is more enchanting than the appearance of colorful butterflies in our gardens. June is the start of a busy month for watching butterflies. The zebra swallowtail frequents Boundary County and is a delight to watch. They range through much of western North America from British Columbia to Baja California.
Many North Idahoans recognize this butterfly on sight; it is large, distinctively colored and relatively common. While actually at home in woodlands and stream sides, it is not unusual to see these butterflies in gardens and city parks. One thing is certain: you’re more likely to see them in places that have food for their larva (caterpillars): willows, cottonwoods, ash trees and lilac bushes. That is why we have so many zebra swallowtails in Mother Natures’ backyard.
The zebra swallowtail spends the winter hibernating as pupae at the bottom of a plant stem, where they can withstand being submerged in water for a long period of time. During the last days of May, adults emerge and will live on average for one month breeding and feeding. The first broods of adults generally die by mid-July. Sometimes, in August, a second brood of adults emerge. These will lay eggs and their caterpillars will form pupae in September and hibernate over the winter.
Their adaptive features help them to survive in their natural habitat. The blood black stripes of these butterflies, along with their low, erratic flight make it hard for predators to follow and capture them. Predators that feed on the zebra swallowtail include invertebrates like spiders, ants and different types of wasps.
The zebra swallowtail has an average lifespan between five and six months.
Enjoy the outdoors in Boundary County and all its beautiful butterflies!