Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2006
* Japanese name: Kuro-ageha
* Scientific name: Papilio protenor
* Description: This is a stunning, exotic and beautiful butterfly with black-and-white forewings patterned almost like a zebra, and black hindwings with a delicate white border and deep red eyespots with black centers. The borders of the hindwings are scalloped and usually end in a large teardrop -- not very good for flying, but highly distinctive in marking this species out to be a swallowtail; it is also known as the black swallowtail. A large insect, it has a wingspan of up to 100 to 140 mm; females are bigger than males.
* Where to find them: Spangles are common in parks, gardens and grasslands in many parts of Asia, including Japan from Honshu to Okinawa; they can even be seen in Tokyo.
* Food: Spangles feed only on flowers of shrubs and trees of the Rutaceae family. This includes the citrus plants, oranges, lemons and mikan. The flowers of these trees have a strong scent.
* Special features: Females of the swallowtail group have evolved very specific preferences both for the flowers they will feed at, and for the plants on which they will lay their eggs (females usually lay two broods a year, in April-May and again in July-August). They distinguish their favored plant species by smell, but there is a reason for their fussiness: the caterpillars survive and grow better if they find themselves on just the right species of host plant when they hatch. This might have something to do with a big morphological and chemical change that the caterpillars undergo in their final molt. They produce pigments and chemicals synthesized from their food that have a defensive role against predators. In the Kanto region, this black swallowtail was once called kamakuracho (butterfly of Kamakura), apparently because their elegant black form reminded people of the clothes worn by the samurai of Kamakura, the capital of Japan from 1192-1333. It's a shame the name "samurai butterfly" didn't take hold.
PHOTO COURTESY OF BIO-IMAGE NET