Schaus swallowtail butterfly: Heraclides aristodemus ponceanus
Genus/Species: Heraclides aristodemus
Subspecies: Heraclides aristodemus ponceanus
Common Name: Schaus’ swallowtail butterfly
Federal Status: Endangered
FL Status: Federally-designated Endangered
FNAI Ranks: G4T1/S1 (Globally: Apparently Secure, Sub Sp. Critically Imperiled/ State: Critically Imperiled)
IUCN Status: None
Schaus’ swallowtail is a large black butterfly that can have a forewing length of up to 2.3 inches (5.8 centimeters). This species has contrasting white or yellow markings across the forewing, and a series of yellow blotches that continues along the forewing to the hind wing. It also has a black “tail” with yellow edging, and an orange patch on the underside of the hind wing (Florida Natural Areas Inventory 2001).
The diet of Schaus’ swallowtail primarily consists of guava nectar, wild tamarind, and cheese shrubs (The Butterfly Conservation Initiative, n.d.).
Males begin courting by cruising around the tops (canopy) of trees in search of receptive females (Montana State University, n.d.). After mating, the female lays eggs singly on the leaves of wild lime (Zanthoxylum fagara) and sea torchwood (Amyris elemifera). Schaus’ swallowtails produce one generation annually between the months of April and July (Daniels 2007). Newly hatched caterpillars feed on young blossoms and leaves (Montana State University, n.d.). The emergence of adult butterflies depends on the beginning of the rainy season in Florida, as the pupae can remain dormant for over a year if the required weather conditions do not exist (Daniels 2007).
Habitat and Distribution
Schaus’ swallowtail inhabits tropical hardwood hammocks in Key Largo and the islands in Biscayne National Park that support the species primary habitat (Florida Natural Areas Inventory 2001).
The Schaus’ swallowtail population faces environmental threats in its limited range. Weather conditions such as droughts and hurricanes also threaten the Schaus’ swallowtail. Droughts prevent the pupae from emerging out of dormant stage into adults. Due to its limited range in the Florida Keys, a strong hurricane could wipe out the population. In 1992, Hurricane Andrew nearly caused the extinction of the species with only 73 individuals surviving the storm (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, n.d.). Inbreeding threatens Schaus’ swallowtail because it causes genetic diversity to be lost within the species, thus limiting the ability to adapt to changing environments (Daniels 2007). Other threats include habitat loss due to development and pesticide spraying for mosquito control.
Conservation and Management
Schaus’ swallowtail butterfly is protected as an Endangered species by the Federal Endangered Species Act and as a Federally-designated Endangered species by Florida’s Endangered and Threatened Species Rule.
Other Informative Links
Butterfly Conservation Initiative
Florida Natural Areas Inventory
Oxford University Museum of Natural History
University of Florida Entomology and Nematology Department
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Species Profile
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service - Partnership with Private Landowners
Printable version of this page
Daniels, J. C. (2007, September). Schaus Swallowtail, Papilio aristodemus ponceanus. Retrieved July 14, 2011, from University of Florida IFAS Extension: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/IN/IN69800.pdf
Florida Natural Areas Inventory. 2001. Field guide to the rare animals of Florida. http://www.fnai.org/FieldGuide/pdf/Heraclides_aristodemus_ponceanus.PDF
Montana State University. (n.d.). Schaus' Swallowtail. Retrieved July 14, 2011, from Birds and Moths of North America: http://www.butterfliesandmoths.org/species/Papilio-aristodemus
The Butterfly Conservation Initiative. (n.d.). Schaus Swallowtail Butterfly. Retrieved July 14, 2011, from http://www.butterflyrecovery.org/species_profiles/schaus_swallowtail/
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. (n.d.). Schaus Swallowtail Butterfly. Retrieved July 14, 2011, from http://www.fws.gov/southeast/pubs/facts/schaus_swallowtail_fs.pdf
Image Credit Photo courtesy of Jaret C. Daniels, Ph.D.