IDing a Butterfly

I love butterflies; that isn't news. But seeing a new butterfly in my garden is newsworthy. This gorgeous butterfly was fluttering all over my Indian Hawthorne shrubbery the other day.

I ran inside to get my camera as my son stood watch.The plan was if the butterfly decided to fly off he was going to track it. Luckily it liked the blooms and it stayed around long enough for me to get a few photos. After it flew off we stood wondering what type of butterfly it was.

So out came the butterfly books and the research began. It was a large butterfly but it was difficult to determine the wing structure because this particular butterfly had lost significant parts of its hindwings.

Had she gotten tangled in a spider web? Attacked by a bird? I don't know but she was surviving nonetheless.

The wing color appeared to be a greenish-blue when the sun hit it. So we looked at all the different "blue" type butterflies that either live in our area or migrate through. None of them fit.

Then we pulled up the photos I had taken to look for some more clues. We noticed some markings resembling those of a swallowtail.

The one photo I got of the underside of the wing confirmed that this was indeed a swallowtail. It has the bright red stripe common to some swallowtails.

So now that we had narrowed down the family of butterfly it was easy. This is a Zebra Swallowtail. They are part of the Kite-Swallowtail group because of their triangular, kite-like wings. Normally they are easy to identify from the bright red and blue markings on the hindwings but they were missing on the one we saw. The stripping on the zebra swallowtail is described as black and white. The white we observed was very shimmery and showed tints of greens and blue depending on how the light reflected on the scales that make up the wings.

The Zebra Swallowtail is listed as uncommon but can be common in the right habitat. The host plant for these butterflies is the Pawpaw and apparently they never travel far from the tree. I don't have a pawpaw tree in my garden. There must be one somewhere close by but rest assured at my next visit to my favorite nursery I will be picking up one or two. And the bonus is that these trees are also native to the southeast.  


  1. I rarely see this butterfly either, though I purposely planted 3 Pawpaw trees to attract Zebra Swallowtails. Great photos!

  2. Ooh, that poor guy looks like he's had a bad day or two. Ouch! Great pics, though. It's always nice when they sit still long enough to let us get a photo, isn't it :-)

  3. Great Post :D
    thought you might like my machinima film the butterfly's tale~
    Bright Blessings
    elf ~

  4. You found a new butterfly in your garden. It is wonderful to see something new. The zebra is a pretty butterfly and you got some really good photos. Too bad for him/her about the run in with the predator, at least the Zebra got to live another day and visit your garden. A couple PawPaws,will give you fruit too. Such a bonus.

  5. Great job tracking! The first butterflies of the season are just starting to make an appearance in the woods here. I saw some last weekend, sunning themselves on the rocks of the trail. As there were no flowers open yet that I could see, it was too hard to get a picture.

  6. I have three pawpaw trees that are about to bloom. I will have to keep an eye out for this beautiful butterfly.

  7. Great closeup shots. Very pretty butterfly also. I hope to get more butterflys this season also. Good luck on this being the start of seeing those every year.
    Goldenray Yorkies

  8. Sighting a new butterfly is always a thrill - and so early in the season, too! I haven't seen but one or two butterflies so far this year and those weren't in my garden. I'm eagerly awaiting their arrival!

  9. We must have Pawpaw’s around us as we have seen the Zebra also. I had no idea their name when I spotted my first one but I said to my hubby that it reminded me of a zebra. Ha, I was so on the money. They enjoyed nectar from the Butterfly Bushes....

  10. I got to see and photograph my first Zebra Swallowtail after I moved to Alabama Karin! Isn't it fun to get the book out and make a good ID, even when it take a bit of work!
    Thanks for posting! Good luck with more butterflies in your garden!

  11. That is interesting! Our friends are breeding Pawpaws for their fruit. I will pass this on :)


  12. she's a I would love to see one of those in my garden..just stunning...the pictures are incredible too

  13. Rebecca, how long have you had your Pawpaw trees? I hope the Zebra Swallowtail will find your trees soon!

    Toni, this butterfly was very difficult to photograph. It kept moving all over from bloom to bloom.

    Celestial Elf, thanks for sharing your film. It is spectacular. And, thank you for stopping by Southern Meadows!

    GWGT, I am excited about planting some Pawpaw trees. Can you believe I have never even tried the fruit before?

    Thanks Kate! It does seem to more difficult to photograph butterflies earlier in the year when food sources are not as abundant.

    Carolyn, I hope you do get some Zebras in your garden. Do you eat the fruit from the Pawpaw?

    Thank you Sunray Gardening, I haven't seen the butterfly again but I am hoping it will return. Especially when I get my Pawpaws planted.

    Ginny, I hope you see butterflies in your garden soon!

    Skeeter, awesome that you have them in your garden! My butterfly bushes aren't blooming just yet. I am a few weeks behind you.

    Thanks Eve! Yes, I love doing the research part and my kids love to help out too. I am so thrilled they are interested in gardening.

    WMG, I hope your friends will see one of these beautiful butterflies in their garden.

    Donna, thank you!! I hope you will see one of these stunning creatures in your garden.

  14. Wonderful photos you got. Amazing how much of the wing is missing.

  15. Marguerite, it was amazing that it flew as well as it did with so much of its wings missing. I hope she will survive!

  16. My butterfly bushes are not in bloom yet. I was talking about the past when I spotted the Zebra's on them :-)


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One of my favorite things about blogging is the conversation with readers. Leave a comment and let's get talking. ~Karin

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