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Butterfly Wing Scale Digital Image Gallery

White Lady Swallowtail Butterfly

Despite its name, the white lady swallowtail is not completely colorless, but instead displays black markings on its white wing backgrounds. Over-harvesting and habitat destruction continually threaten the species and in Equatorial Guinea, Togo, and Angola, the butterflies are considered endangered.

Classified by entomologists as Graphium angolanus, white lady swallowtail butterflies prefer to inhabit woodlands, but also frequent savannah, bush country, and forest margins. The fast flying butterflies have a wingspan of about 80 millimeters and are unusually bold, exhibiting the strange habit of frequently flying at human eye level. The apparent disregard for danger may be linked to the adults' wing shape and coloration, which protects them through imitation of the toxic friar butterfly. The white lady swallowtail is a Batesian mimic and is not believed to be toxic to birds and other predators.

The plant preferences of white lady swallowtails make them unpopular at times. Their favored egg host and larval food plant is the economically important white custard apple. The fruit, which tastes similar to a mixture of pineapple and apricot, is very popular in Africa, where people often consume them along with the leaves and flowers of the custard apple plant. Due to their herbivory, white lady swallowtail caterpillars are often perceived as agricultural pests and are, consequently, frequently sprayed with insecticides.

Human encroachment, war, and economic hardship have all caused problems for the white lady swallowtail in its native range. Moreover, artificial rearing of the species is quite limited due to the difficulties associated with obtaining and raising the host plants. A trend of low-impact land management practices provides some hope, however, for the tropical lepidopterans. Heightened awareness through public education at butterfly conservatories in Europe and North America and eco-tours of African butterfly ranches may result in additional benefits for the fragile species.

Contributing Authors

Cynthia D. Kelly, Shannon H. Neaves, Laurence D. Zuckerman, and Michael W. Davidson - National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, 1800 East Paul Dirac Dr., The Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida, 32310.


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