The next time you're outside, take a look at the first butterfly you see: there's a good chance it's North Carolina's state butterfly. The Eastern tiger swallowtail, scientifically known as Papilio glaucus, was designated as North Carolina's state butterfly in June of 2012. The butterfly is native to North America, and one of the most common and most easily recognized species found in the Eastern U.S.
It's widely accepted that the Eastern tiger swallowtail was the first North American butterfly species to have been illustrated. John White - an artist and cartographer who was the governor of the Roanoke Island colony (that came to be known as the Lost Colony) - first drew the species in 1587 while on an expedition for Sir Walter Raleigh in Virginia.
How to Identify the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
These butterflies are usually pretty easy to identify thanks to their distinctive colors. The male is usually yellow with four black stripes on each wing. Females are usually yellow or black. You'll find them from spring to the fall, and usually around the edges of woods, in open fields, in gardens or by roadsides. They usually hang out around the tops of trees, but they like to drink from puddles on the ground (sometimes in large huddles or clusters). They like woodlands, flat grassy areas, streams, and gardens, but they will also wander into city parks and yards.
When it comes to food, they prefer the nectar of sturdy plants that have bright red or pink flowers. You'll often find then engaging in a common butterfly activity known as puddling, where a group will gather on mud, damp gravel, or rain puddles. They're taking in and absorbing amino acids from these sources, which helps with their reproduction process.
If you see a puddling group, it's most likely a group of very young males. The males generally only puddle in their first few days, and females don't gather in groups.
North Carolina is in good company with this selection of this as their butterfly, as the states of Alabama, Delaware, Georgia, South Carolina, and Virginia have all also chosen the Eastern tiger swallowtail as their official state butterfly (or as their official state insect). North Carolina does have a separate state insect - the common honey bee.
These butterflies aren't harmful, but the female of this species will sometimes give the impression she is to predators by imitating the warning signs of the highly poisonous Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly.
Check out the rest of North Carolina's state symbols, including the official bird, fish, drink, dance, and more.