Earlier this week I posted about Honeysuckles and the importance of pollinator gardens. In that post, I wrote a haiku that mentioned the Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus). Well, as it turns out the Monarch butterfly might have been a perfect fit for my haiku, but it wasn’t what I was seeing. I was actually watching an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus).(1)
The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail is one of the most common butterflies on eastern United States and can be distinguished from the Monarch by the differences in colors. The Monarch is orange and black, whereas the Eastern Swallowtail is yellow and black. Looking at them side by side it is easy to tell the difference.(2)
However, an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail could be easily confused with the Canadian Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio canadensis). These two butterflies look amazingly similar, and as their names suggest they are closely related. There are, however, a few distinct differences between these two species.(3)
First, there is their habitat. The Canadian Tiger Swallowtail lives primarily in Canada and its territory can reach as far north as the Arctic Circle and south into the northern parts of the United States, which would include Wisconsin and Vermont. The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail lives primarily in the eastern United States covering a range that reaches from Vermont to Florida and west towards the Great Plains. So, depending on your location you can sometimes rule out one or the other. However, if you are located in one of the places where their habitats overlap it would be important to be able to distinguish them another way.
The other way to tell the the Canadian Tiger Swallowtail from the Easter Tiger Swallowtail is in the markings on the wings. The website Wisconsin Butterflies provides this great summary of the differences.
Canadian Tiger Swallowtails have the following characteristics:
- The yellow marginal spot band on the front wing below is continuous, while in the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail these are broken into distinct spots
- The broad, black line on the trailing margin of the hind wing reaches at least halfway to the first vein; in the Eastern this is less than halfway, and in fact it is often considerably less than halfway.(3)
The second characteristic of the black line on the hind wing was helpful when I was watching at the butterfly on the honeysuckle.
But, what does this mean for my haiku?
William J. Higginson, wrote in his essay Guidelines for Writing Haiku in English, a Haiku is a “short imagistic poems about things that make the reader feel connected to nature.” As a writer of haiku, I think it is important to make sure that I am accurate in my description of what is happening. For some, mixing up a Monarch with the Swallowtail might not be a big deal. But for others, this might bring up questions about my haiku. For instance, Monarchs are much more likely to be found in Milkweed than on Honeysuckle (6). And, in Vermont, the Honeysuckles are blooming in June and the Milkweed is just coming up. This means Monarchs are not around when the Honeysuckle first blooms. This could cause confusion and not allow the reader to connect with the moment.
As a result, I believe a re-write is in order.
A gentle breeze
Shakes the honeysuckle tree
A Swallowtail takes flight