Sunday, May 8, 2011

A Puddling of Swallowtails

Grandson Devin and I have been wading in the bend of Big Creek which lies across the road from our lower meadow. Devin had gotten mud to his knees while investigating footprints in the ditch; I created a blister on one ankle by stomping about in rubber boots with no socks. He slogged and I limped to the bottom of the pasture, where beyond the asphalt road the cool waters of the creek beckoned.

We eased off our boots and left them on the shaley slope leading into sun-dappled water, stirring up clouds of swallowtail butterflies which swirled ahead, just out of good camera range.
I was delighted to find several clumps of the butterflies resting in the shade.

A look at the wikipedia entry for Eastern Tiger Swallowtail promises a wealth of information.

The water of the creek was cool--not cold.  It felt soothing to my chaffed ankle.
The creek bed was slippery--with interesting cracks and fissures.  Small pebbles had settled into these grooves in the rocky bed.  D. poked at crawdads who slid under the lip of rock.
Males participate in a behavior called puddling, in which they congregate on mud, damp gravel, or puddles. They extract sodium ions and amino acids from these sources which aid in reproduction.[13][19] Males that puddle are typically fresh, and puddle only for their first couple of days. Females will occasionally puddle, but do not form congregations.[19]
From wikipedia
If I have read the information correctly it would seem that the black swallowtail is a color morph of the tiger female.
Some of the butterflies in the "puddles" had the blue markings of the female, so perhaps we witnessed some unusual behavior.

Impossible to get a photo where at least one butterfly wasn't fluttering and causing a blur.

I have never witnessed this behavior of the butterflies before and feel blessed to have seen them today.

The one in the foreground has the markings of a male.

This photo was taken as we approached the creek along the bank.
Although only two butterflies are easily seen here, they were rising up in clouds.
D. and I left the creek reluctantly, boots dangling from our hands, and padded up the warm stretch of macadam road to the driveway and along the grassy verge to the house.


  1. Wow, what a lovely time you two had together in spite of blisters.

    Have a wonderful week ~ FlowerLady

  2. What amazing photos ...I have never seen those before

  3. That must be like something out of a fantasy film, how wonderful to be able to share these things with our Blogs!

  4. Minion, How fantastic! We have the swallowtails here but I've never seen the puddling.

  5. What an incredible thing to see! We only see beautiful swallow tails like that in Butterfly Farms.

  6. What stunning butterflies and it looks like you captured some unusual behaviour. Your creek is a lot more user-friendly than our steep-sided fast-flowing Cothi . . .