The Tiger and The Coyote

Western Tiger Swallowtail, wing close-up


One of the definite highlights of my trip to El Dorado Regional Park a couple weeks ago was a beautiful Western Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio rutulus) which repeatedly landed on a close-by patch of Monardella sp. (commonly referred to as Coyote Mint) and then stayed there like someone was paying it to do so. For me and my fellow arthropod enthusiast (Chris), this was like hitting the jackpot.


Western Tiger Swallowtail on Coyote Mint


These butterflies are impressively large, but in my experience, they have a frustrating habit of flying around in large circles, then landing just long enough for you to lock in your camera settings and get them framed nicely. Then, you go to press the shutter and find that there’s no butterfly in the viewfinder anymore. Where did it go?! you mutter to yourself… You look around, spy it landing on another flower a little ways off, and the process starts all over again.

But… not this particular butterfly. It seemed quite smitten with this one small grouping of flowers and though it often flitted away for a few seconds, it reliably came back to the same spot over and over again, giving us both ample opportunity to get many photos in a row and even play around a bit with our viewing angle and composition. It was heavenly!!!


Western Tiger Swallowtail on Coyote Mint


Western Tiger Swallowtail on Coyote Mint


Western Tiger Swallowtail on Coyote Mint


As is so often the case when I sit down to closely examine my nature images, I discover things that would be very difficult (or impossible) to discern in the field. As I began preparing the photos for this post, I was definitely working under the presumption that I had only photographed a single butterfly. Somehow, the repeated act of it returning to the exact same group of flowers just made me (and I’m guessing Chris too) presume that it was the same swallowtail each time. Apparently… not so!! If you look closely at the images, you can see that there are several notches on the edge of the upper wing of the first butterfly (probably caused by a close call with a hungry bird?) that are not found on the butterfly in the remaining images. Also, if you check out the side-by-side comparison shot I put together below, you can see the subtle differences in the markings themselves.

Western Tiger Swallowtail, wing comparison


I am indebted to Chris for his help in providing me with an ID for the lovely purple flowers. Also, he has put up a wonderful post of his own about our day together at El Dorado — check it out!

If you missed my previous posts about my trip to El Dorado, you can read them here and here.

Harsi / June 18, 2011 / arthropods, flowers, plants


  1. ro - June 19, 2011 @ 9:39 am

    Hi Harsi, I had one in my garden last week that allowed me to snap off a round of shots. Later when I looked at them I realized one of the bottom wings was missing so her flutter was much more fluttery than usual, still she seemed very vulnerable to a hungry bird. One day while sitting out in my garden I was watching a swallowtail make her way around an I said to Eric, “oh look at the phoebe”, not a moment later the phoebe swooped in and all we saw were 4 wings trickling down to the ground. Now you don’t see that much in a Disney movie, not that Bambi wasn’t cruel. xo

  2. Harsi - June 19, 2011 @ 2:38 pm

    Hiya, Ro! You said it… I’ve seen some butterflies that were so tattered it seemed a marvel that they were able to fly at all. I loved the story of you and Eric with the ravenous phoebe!!! I’ve seen them nab a few smaller butterflies, but never anything as impressively large as a swallowtail… I bet it won’t surprise you one bit to hear that I had a really hard time with Bambi when I was young… I couldn’t understand what had happened to her mom. They don’t show you in the movie (right?!) and I guess I couldn’t conceive of the whole hunting concept. Thought of you several times this morning — I finally got my 2 to 3 hour walk in the foggy loveliness we’ve been having! It was superb!

  3. Chris - June 20, 2011 @ 12:16 pm

    Wow! I had indeed thought we were shooting one swallowtail, even after going through my photos. How interesting to see that we were actually shooting two of them! Good catch. There must be something they really like about these flowers because I just never see them sit still, so to have two of them pose for us in so short a time span that we thought it was one butterfly is pretty amazing to me.

  4. Harsi - June 20, 2011 @ 2:25 pm

    Hi Chris! I haven’t seen any of the other photos you took… But of the two posted on your blog, the first one looks like a match for the first butterfly pictured on my blog. The second one you pictured looks to be the same as the remaining butterfly pics on my blog (note the large chunk missing from the inner portion at the base of the right forewing). So glad we were able to share this (and other) special photo ops together!


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