After years of searching… I finally found a Western Tiger Swallowtail egg!
All fellow “butterfly egg hunters” out there should understand why a celebration of sorts is in order! Butterfly eggs in general can be hard to come by, especially when you are at the mercy of Mother Nature, but the Western Tiger Swallowtail’s eggs seem to be particularly, well, quite literally, out of reach.
Sycamores, Willows and Cottonwoods, the Western Tiger Swallowtail’s ( Papilio rutulus ) host plants, are not only typically abundant in source, but also grow large in structure. This makes the prospect of obtainng a Western Tiger’s egg nothing short of finding a needle in a very, very big haystack.
Desperate Times Call For Desperate Measures!
Western Tiger Swallowtails are common in the rural areas of Southern California. Often they can be seen fluttering high near the canopies of their favorite host plants, especially native California Sycamores ( Platanus racemosa ). Other than reverting to my childhood days of tree dwelling, I can think of no other way to seek out and acquire a Tiger Swallowtail’s egg. Once, while driving, I noticed a Sycamore that had recently been struck down and was laying along the roadside. Admittedly, crazily, I pulled over my car and looked over the trees foliage for eggs, but, much to my disappointment, found none.
I don’t know if Lady Luck decided to have a chat with Mother Nature or not, but for whatever reason, last week she finally resolved to shine upon me. My good friend and fellow confessed “butterfly egg hunter” actually spied a Western Tiger female laying eggs near her home. Next thing I knew the ladder was in my car and then I was high up in branches of several lush Sycamore trees searching the leaves for eggs.
Like many butterflies, I sought to camouflage myself by wearing earthy hued colors, such as green and brown. I also kept an over-sized hat on, hoping no one would recognize me and might instead mistake me for some over zealous gardener. I searched in the canopies for sometime, then just as I was about to fold up my wobbly ladder and go home I found what I had been hunting for.
Wow!!!… Finally, a Western Tiger Swallowtail egg!!!! It was just sitting there topside, upon a sizable leaf, perfectly disguised amongst the spotted patterns typical of the Sycamore. I had always thought that female butterflies preferred to lay their eggs on the soft new growth of their host plant, but not in this case.
Here, mama clearly opted for the covert over cushy and also, possibly due to her size, choose to lay the egg at the base of a considerable leaf which could sustain her body weight. Whatever the circumstances, I was glad to have found the egg! I am hoping to watch the caterpillar which emerges from it go through full metamorphosis, but am most looking forward to seeing it fly off as a lovely swallowtail butterfly into the canopies from which it came. -K.D’Angelo