Mocker Swallowtail Uses Imitation for Survival

PHOTO: Side view of a male Mocker Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio dardanus).
Side view of a male mocker swallowtail (Papilio dardanus) butterfly.

The mocker swallowtail (Papilio dardanus) is the newest and perhaps most fascinating butterfly here at Butterflies & Blooms.

Native to Sub-Saharan Africa, this beauty is truly one of a kind. The male mocker swallowtail is monomorphic, meaning he always looks the same. In this particular case, he is a gorgeous, butter yellow with hints of black, and two distinct swallowtails.

The female, however, is polymorphic and has the ability to mimic up to 14 different butterfly species! The species she mimics are all native African butterflies that are known to be either distasteful or poisonous to predators. Her looks have great variation and can range between all white and black, orange and black, orange with black and white, and many more options! The female form also rarely has an actual swallowtail. There are some photos below of a few of her forms.

PHOTO: Top view of female Mocker Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio dardanus).
Female mocker swallowtail (note the absence of actual swallowtails).
PHOTO: Top view of Mocker Swallowtail female (Papilio dardanus).
Another color combination of the female mocker swallowtail.

The mocker swallowtail is particularly active in the early morning and is extremely alert, so trying to get close to these beauties is difficult. Because birds (a.k.a. predators) are also active in the early morning, this is presumably a defense tactic used by these bright butterflies. That doesn’t mean you won’t see them in the display, though! They fly around all day long, so you will definitely be able to spot a few.

Visit Butterflies & Blooms to see the swallowtail in a habitat filled with hundreds of live butterflies.

©2013 Chicago Botanic Garden and

The Artfully Disguised Moon Moth

African moon moths are now emerging!

African Moon Moth (Argema mimosae)  ©Patty Dodson
African Moon Moth (Argema mimosae)
©Patty Dodson

The African moon moth (Argema mimosae) is another spectacular large moth found at Butterflies & Blooms this summer. Slightly smaller than its cousin, the Giant Madagascan moon moth, or comet moth (Argema mittrei), it can be well-camouflaged among the branches in the exhibition because its bright, bright green color blends in well with new leaf growth. The four “eyespots” on the moon moth’s wings mark it as a member of the Saturniidae family—moths with concentric spot designs that mimic the rings on the planet Saturn. Saturnid moths also use a pheromone mating system in which female moths release a chemical scent trail for male moths to follow.

As a caterpillar, this native of South Africa prefers corkwood (Commiphora), marula (Sclerocarya birrea), and tamboti (Spirostachys africana), but it does not eat during its lifespan as a moth. It trades mouthparts for wings in its transformation. It also trades its green caterpillar body for a beautiful, furry coat! 

Find male moths in the exhibition by checking their antennae—male moths have thicker, more strongly feathered antennae.

©2013 Chicago Botanic Garden and