Giant Swallowtail Butterfly Observed in August

September 14, 2012

A very rare Papilio cresphontes was spotted recently in the butterfly garden of the Wellesley College Botanic Gardens.

In August, Dr. Curtis Runnels, professor of archaeology at Boston University, wrote to Kristina Jones, director of the Wellesley College Botanic Gardens, to report having observed a giant swallowtail butterfly (Papilio cresphontes) in the butterfly garden at Wellesley. Runnels also mentioned that, according to the Massachusetts Audubon Society Butterfly Atlas, this species was last reported in Wellesley in 1893! “The giant swallowtail was feeding on the butterfly bush,” he said, “and we had a good 10 minutes of close observation to ensure a positive identification. Congratulations!”

Unfortunately, Runnels did not have a camera with him at the time (photo here was taken by Bob Wilson at The Butterfly Place in Westford, Mass.), but Kristina Jones reports that the butterfly has been spotted at least twice more at Wellesley, including by David Sommers from Wellesley’s horticultural staff. The rare specimen has continued to evade photography, but, says Jones, “We are quite confident in the identification, given the very striking band of yellow across the middle of the very large wings.”

The Wellesley College Botanic Gardens are campus treasures. The Alexandra Botanic Garden has specimen trees and shrubs from around the world in a picturesque landscape with a winding brook. The H. H. Hunnewell Arboretum has several different habitats, including a maple swamp, meadow, and fragments of different forest types, with mostly native species. Other specialized gardens include a green roof planted with native species, a dwarf conifer garden, and the butterfly garden where the giant swallowtail came to visit.

We hope you will visit too—the outdoor gardens are open to the public, and the greenhouses are open from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. every day of the year. And of course, please do let us know of any rare or unusual sightings!