Canadian Tiger Swallowtail

2009 January 24

The word for today is “Snarge”

As I’ve mentioned before, butterflies give me trouble, because they are large, flighty, and will not sit still. People who get really nice pictures of butterflies generally do it with a combination of persistence, excellent equipment, skill, and a bit of luck[1]. I’m not so good in the equipment and skill categories, and only occasionally have the time to really go in for the persistence, so for butterflies I mainly have to depend on the “luck” part. Which means taking advantage of “snarge”[2] when I get the chance.

This one was a piece of snarge that got caught under our windshield wiper, way back in May of 2007[3]. It actually didn’t get mangled all that badly, considering[4]. One of the hindwings had the “tail” broken off, but while the other hindwing was cocked up at an angle, it was otherwise intact:

This is clearly a swallowtail, and I expect it is a Canadian Tiger Swallowtail, Papilio canadensis. The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Papilio glaucus, is very similar (a bit larger and with very slightly different wing markings), to the point that until 1991, the Canadian Tiger Swallowtail was considered to be a subspecies of the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, not a separate species in its own right.

Incidentally, I think that the reason that the left hindwing is cocked up like that, is it is supposed to be tucked under the forewing. In the collision, it got misarranged so that it is on top instead. I probably should have tried to rearrange the wings, but arranging and mounting insects is something of an art form itself, and I probably would have just messed it up more by rubbing a lot of the scales off of the wings.

Canadian tiger swallowtails appear in May and fly through most of June, so they must overwinter as pupae and then emerge in the spring. They probably wait until May so that there will be some flowers present to get nectar from.

The caterpillars are big, green things with eyespots on their shoulders, and eat a lot of different plants (ash, cherry, poplar, willow, and I spotted one on a stand of White Sweet Clover a few years back). They are pretty common around here some years, there have been occasions where I’ve seen dozens of them flying around at once. They are really beautiful butterflies, and it’s nice to see them so early in the spring.

[1] The method that takes the most persistence is finding the caterpillars, raising them to adulthood, and then photographing the adult during the brief window of time when its wings have just about dried, but it isn’t quite ready to fly yet. Catching them “on the wing” usually means a combination of excellent lenses, a camera that takes the shot right now when you press the shutter button, and good portable lighting, which basically needs money, money, money. And, of course, you really need a willingness to chase after the butterfly for extended periods, preferably with little regard to your own personal safety.

[2] I just heard the term “snarge” on the news recently, as a direct result of the airliner that had to ditch in the Hudson river when its engines both quit, probably due to birds getting sucked into them. It seems that, when birds hit aircraft, the FAA always wants to know what kind of bird it was, so that they can figure out their habits and try to work out how to keep them away from the planes. So, they send any remains that they find stuck to the plane afterwards to the Smithsonian Institution’s Feather Identification Laboratory, who figure out what it was when it was alive. The technical term for these remains is “snarge”. Technically, I suppose it is limited to what you get when birds collide with aircraft, but I think it is legitimate to generalise it to “remains of any animal stuck to any vehicle after a collision”. So the bug smears on your windshield, and the moths in your radiator, are all snarge[5].

[3] I didn’t run it earlier, because I was a bit embarassed with its condition, but I figured it was a good one to use to introduce the term “snarge” with.

[4] There are no pictures of the underside, because your really don’t want to see that. Let’s just say there was a reason that it died.

[5] When I was an undergraduate, one of my professors told a story of a time he was driving with some other people in the Australian outback, and hit a kangaroo.  They stopped, and saw the obvious damage to the front of the vehicle, but they looked and looked and couldn’t find the kangaroo anywhere.  So they drove off.  Several miles later, they started smelling burning hair.  So they stopped again, and this time looked underneath the vehicle – and there it was, kind of wedged up inside the engine compartment.  It seems that, unlike deer which have a high center of gravity and tend to go over the hood in a collision (and often through your windshield), kangaroos have a low center of gravity and tend to go underneath. Anyway, that’s probably about as large of a piece of snarge as one is likely to get.  If it hadn’t been stuck, of course, it would just be roadkill.

4 Responses
  1. January 30, 2009

    Another wonderful post! I can now impress my friends and confound my enemies by using the word snarge.


  2. joe permalink
    March 10, 2009

    where is the common animals that lik to eat them??????

  3. March 10, 2009

    Joe: I don’t have a list, but I expect that they are mostly eaten by birds. The adults are probably eaten by birds that catch insects in flight, like swallows and flycatchers. The caterpillars are probably eaten by other insect-eating birds that pick their food off of plants or off the ground, like robins and jays. And, of course, spiders probably catch quite a few of the adults, and the caterpillars get eaten by predatory insects like assassin bugs, or by the larvae of parasitic wasps. And then there are the ones that get hit by cars. Hope this helps.

  4. celestial elf permalink
    April 23, 2011

    Great Post 😀
    thought you might like my machinima film the butterfly’s tale~
    Bright Blessings
    elf ~

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