The silent invasion of the ‘Flying Tigers’
Just the other day, I saw an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly wafting by in its “glider” mode at car level across a city street. I slowed my car for it, just as I do for a cat or dog (and firstly, of course, for people).
I thought about the sad sight I had seen earlier of a dead “tiger” which had been “taken for a ride” on a car’s radiator grill. The ride was at an end, but the butterfly was mounted on the grill in death, expertly pressed by an auto-driven wind.
In my childhood along the Old Concord Road, the large, yellow, black-striped, male Eastern Tiger Swallowtail was a “must have” for any young butterfly collector.
Due to the preponderance of trees in my boyhood yard, there were mostly those butterflies of a shadowy, “woodsy” nature, like the “satyr” and “wood nymph,” both being of brown coloration with a few lighter spots helping to blend them into the mottled look of the tree bark on which they were often seen sitting.
Across the road, and in the sunshine was W.A. Cline’s house and flower garden in his side yard, made up mostly of roses, to the best of my memory. It was on these blooms that I usually encountered and sometimes caught the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, which in my yard was elusive basically due to its being mostly absent there.
I mentioned earlier about this butterfly being a “glider,” but that seems to be only when it traverses the warm afternoon summer air. It is equally a “darter,” going from side to side in the cooler mornings, making overall forward motion despite its zigging and zagging (a method to its apparent madness). There is a family of butterflies called “skippers,” so called because their “flight pattern” resembles the way a child skips along on a sidewalk. I guess it’s a good thing that the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail wasn’t given the name “darter,” because on hearing that name someone might confuse it with a famous (or infamous, depending upon your point of view) East Tennessee fish.
I have never seen such a year as the present one for the abundance of this species of butterfly! They can be seen crossing city streets, highways and country roads, but they are in the greatest abundance on “butterfly bushes.” I don’t know the proper Latin name for those plants, but “butterfly bush” seems to suffice. In fact, due to the amazing numbers of these butterflies on them, those bushes now seem to have completely (100 percent) lived up to their long-given name.
Some people have put pictures of these butterflies on Facebook during the past few weeks to showcase their beauty. The swallowtails are shown fairly close up as they stop to drink nectar from the butterfly bush’s flowers.
In addition to these excellent shots, I wish the photographers had also taken a picture with the camera further away to show the additional splendor of the “tiger’s” numbers (kind of like that scene in “Gone With the Wind,” when the camera pulls back, showing a foreground silhouette of Scarlett, her father and a massive oak, with Tara and the sunset-illuminated clouds forming a colorful background).
The male of this species is that bright yellow, black-striped butterfly which we mostly see. The female is dark, but with a backdrop of sunlight, her black stripes can be seen in that “glass seen through darkly.” There don’t seem to be as many of these female swallowtails as there are males, which is the direct opposite of the case on many college co-ed campuses (at least that was how it was when I was at Appalachian).
The cicadas are still “singing,” tucked away in their hiding places in the trees, while the tail-finned swallowtails invade in silence (cicadas would have been a good Biblical plague, with butterflies being more like a heavenly gift).
There was a group of American volunteer fliers known as the Flying Tigers, in World War II, technically the 1st American Volunteer Group of the Chinese Air Force.
Not in “squadrons” like migrating Monarchs, the ”flying tigers” of the summer of 2013 are swooping down in solo, one after another, repeatedly, their present numbers unprecedented for as long as I can remember. The sweet, purplish-blue flowers of the butterfly bush are especially targeted in their sights, but they produce no droning noise as they fly over, then make their landings where, only while paused for a nourishing drink of flower nectar, can this year’s multitude of them be seen and fully appreciated.
Unlike the cicadas, the Eastern Tiger Swallowtails’ arrival is only announced by our sight of them, the sound of even a thousand flappings of their wings being too subtle a thing to cause a dog’s ears to perk, or make him tilt his head in wonder.
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