Just as it’s difficult for me to choose a favorite butterfly, it’s difficult for me to choose how to share them on my site. For my Swallowtails at least (those within the Papilionidae Family), I’m breaking all of my sightings down into tribes, of which there are three:
Within the Papilionini Tribe, there is actually only one genus, Papilio (Latin for “butterfly”). To date, I have captured 8 from this tribe in Hainan, China, and 4 in the States. All photos are mine (yup, even the bad ones), and I took most between 2017 and 2020.
Chinese Peacock Swallowtail (Papilio bianor)
I’ve found the Chinese Peacock Swallowtail a few times in China, but only once on the island. The beaten-up and dead specimen pictured above I found at night while hunting moths in GuiZhou Province. My mind was so focused on the nighttime flutterings of this guy’s cousin, I thought I had found the mother of all moths. Nothing doing. I love the iridescence on the wings here. There are many subspecies of this butterfly, so I’m not quite sure which I have in these two shots.
Common Mime (Papilio clytia)
From the subgenus Chilasa, the Papilio clytia or Common Mime, wears a beautiful lattice of black-and-yellows which often appears as white in the field. This butterfly crafts what is perhaps the most unique chrysalis of all, pupating in something that looks identical to a broken twig. It also mimics the look of unsavory Danainae butterflies and the flight of Glassy Tigers as a means of avoiding predators. Pictured above is the dissimilis form
Eastern Giant Swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes)
With a name like this, don’t be surprised that this is the largest butterfly in North America. This strong flyer is gorgeous and all, but word has it he wreaks havoc on citrus farms and such which in the larval stage. Speaking of larval stages, you should check out the fake snake-tongue that protrudes from its head to scare off predators. I mean, if it already is camouflaged like bird droppings, why would it need a giant red Y-shaped protrusion to scare away enemies? I guess it just shows how stupid birds can be.
Southern Chinese Peacock Swallowtail (Papilio dialis)
I came upon this large drifter while hiking early one morning in one of the island’s only farms for the endemic Hainan White Pine Tree. It took us on iNaturalist a long time to agree on an ID, probably because my shot was so poor. But agree we finally did! This thing is a monster, and I was so stoked to see it bathing there on the trail ahead of me.
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus)
Having spent most of my photography years in China, I was pretty excited to discover what I might find when finally visiting the States again. Although the Easter Tiger Swallowtail is one of the most common swallowtails in the Eastern US, it still shines as a beautiful creatures that just screams “summer.” The blue markings on the hindwings of this individual tell me that it’s a female.
Red Helen (Papilio helenus)
Unlike the South African heavy-metal band which goes by the same name, this large yet dainty swallowtail butterfly can be seen flitting throughout Australasia and India all year round. This one’s enjoying some Lantana camara near the beach in Sanya. This individual has been through some close scrapes before, but he doesn’t look to afraid of me.
Great Mormon (Papilio memnon)
I’ve shot live live Great Mormons many times before, but none of my shots show the iridescence and colors as well as in this dead-pose does. This large butterfly has a 13.5cm wingspan and feeds on citrus plants throughout SE Asia. I loved chasing this couple below as they danced through the trees trying make life happen.
Two-tailed Swallowtail (Papilio multicaudata)
This butterfly from the Pterourus subgenus looks much like many of the other Tiger Swallowtails, but thanks once again to the pros on iNaturalist, I got a positive ID. The two-tailed Swallowtail doesn’t have a whole lot of info on it,
Black and White Helen Swallowtail (Papilio nephelus)
Often mistaken for for the Red Helen, this guy is a constant charmer on our peninsula. Main subspecies on the island is P.n. chaonulus, but I’ll leave ID-ing on that level to the professionals.
Paris Peacock Swallowtail (Papilio paris)
I’ve been actively following butterflies throughout my green island since 2017, and what still grabs my attention quicker than anything is when I see green on the wings. This butterfly’s iridescent scales flash green like metallic beads, and it’s truly a beautiful sight. I don’t think I could ever capture it in oils. The females are duller than the males, which once more makes me glad to be human.
Common Mormon Swallowtail (Papilio ploytes)
Totally not a Great Mormon. Just your common, average, run-of-the-mill Mormon. I wonder what Joseph Smith would say about all these common names we throw around! I often confuse this butterfly with the Black and White Helen (Papilio nephelus), and the confusion comes from the shaping of the white bars on the wings, whether they form a line or a more circular. Thankfully the pros at iNaturalist have a better handle on it than I.
Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes)
One benefit of being Stateside has been the opportunity to see butterflies I would never come across in China. This Black Swallowtail is one of them. I’ve only see it once, and the pictures aren’t great, but I was happy to add it to my list! The mating habits of this species are wild, and in researching the highly-territorial males, I learned a new word: “lek” mating, where essentially the males select territories away from all food resources, the females come to them and copulate as they please with whichever males they desire, all day long if they please (males can only do it twice a day), and that’s it. No phone calls or letters or responsibility. Read up on it sometime! Wild stuff.
Spangle (Papilio protenor)
While I’ve shot a few crappy adult shots of this large Swallowtail butterfly like the one above, I prefer to share this larval shot, because I catch so few of them during my hunts! Word has it, male Spangles have a stronger odor than females. Now we’re getting somewhere.
Check back for more, as I’ll update these pages with new sightings as they happen!