Scarce Swallowtail (Iphiclides podalirius)

Iberian Scarce Swallowtail (Iphiclides feisthamelii)

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2021 photographs highlighted in yellow. Click on any photograph to go to an enlarged picture, or simply scroll down the page.

7939_male_Isère_5Jul07 22425_male_Hautes-Alpes_16Jul10 1133_male_Alpes-Maritimes_28May06
7983_male_Isère_5Jul07 31820_sex?_Var_23Apr13 36839_sex?_Var_13Apr15
 
17051_female_Var_30Jun09 15226_ovum_Var_20May09  
 
48472_sex?_Pyrénées-Orientales_14Jul21 48475_sex?_Pyrénées-Orientales_14Jul21  

This is a most majestic butterfly, huge and floating effortlessly. It is not, as its English name implies, scarce, and in my experience it is much more common than the Swallowtail (Papilio machaon). I believe the English name originates from the early English lepidopterists and refers to its scarcity as a rare vagrant to the UK in the 1800s or thereabouts.

 

The previously-considered subspecies feisthamelii (English name: Iberian Scarce Swallowtail or Spanish Swallowtail) is now classified as a separate species. It is principally an Iberian species with distribution "spilling" into the eastern Pyrénées of France (http://diatheo.weebly.com/iphiclides-feisthamelii.html). It differs from podalirius in that it is noticeably paler, white in the male, and pale yellow in the female.

 

A paper (in French) published by Tristan Lafranchis: http://diatheo.weebly.com/uploads/2/8/2/3/28235851

/feisthamelii_podalirius_lafranchis_2015__2_.pdf

 

This paper includes a very useful graphic comparison of the features of podalirius and feisthamelii. One of the identifying features quoted is the shorter black mark attached to the upf costa as shown in the comparison below. It says that for podalirius this mark is pointed and for feisthamelii it is flat-ended. This is certainly and clearly true for the two specimens shown below. However, for 36839 it is very clearly flat-ended but this cannot be feisthamelii as it was seen in Var, a very considerable distance from feisthamelii territory. 31820 is also closer to flat-ended than pointed, not as convincingly as 36839, and this was also seen in Var. It may be the case that if this mark is pointed, it is podalirius, but if flat-ended, then the location becomes the critical factor (among other factors).

In a 2021 trip to the region, one of my objectives was to get decent photographs of feisthamelii and, while I saw it on several occasions, it remained rather elusive as far as the camera was concerned and I was only able to manage a couple of sub-par shots, as shown above.

Podalirius is not scarce in France, as mentioned earlier, where it outnumbers machaon maybe 5:1 and can sometimes be found in numbers which does not seem to be the case for machaon. It is also a rather lowland species, rarely in my experience over 1000m altitude, whereas machaon is often found at 2000m and above.

Podalirius is a large species in terms of wing area and quite unmistakeable in flight. I recall first seeing it in 1996 in Vendée on the Atlantic coast. Transfixed, I followed for nearly a kilometre.

In 2000 in the Dordogne at a cottage with some lavender bushes about five metres from the front door, on one occasion twelve podalirius were nectaring together.

In 2006 I saw at least 15 very fresh podalirius "puddling" (taking salts and moisture from wet earth), and when two machaon arrived to puddle at the same place they were driven away by the podalirius. Not unlike crows mobbing a hawk, quite an amazing sight.

A superb video of the life-cycle of podalirius has been produced by Filming VarWild and can be viewed on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PFHBSUb60hA

    podalirius                                                                      feisthamelii

ref

sex

observations

alt. m

7939

M

a male, taking salts. This shows the width of the enormous podalirius wings.

900

22425 M

a male, taking salts.

1000
1133 M

a male underside. A quick snap as the wings are constantly on the move.

330
7983 M

another quickly taken shot to catch the underside of this male.

900
31820 ? a very fresh, probably just emerged, specimen. 450
36839 ? this specimen had just emerged and was in the process of drying its wings. 20
17051 F

a female, I believe.

920
15226 ovum

an ovum, on a leaf of Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa).

140
48472 ? based largely on the location, and the assumption that podalirius and feisthamelii do not fly together (at least in this region), I believe this to be feisthamelii. From what can be seen of the body shape, it may be a female. 570
48475 ? I believe this to be a male. This is based on body shape, together with the pale colouring which appears to be naturally pale rather than as a result of ageing. 570

 

7939_male_Isère_5Jul07

 

22425_male_Hautes-Alpes_16Jul10

 

1133_male_Alpes-Maritimes_28May06

 

7983_male_Isère_5Jul07

 

31820_sex?_Var_23Apr13

 

36839_sex?_Var_13Apr15

 

17051_female_Var_30Jun09

 

15226_ovum_Var_20May09

 

48472_sex?_Pyrénées-Orientales_14Jul21

 

48475_sex?_Pyrénées-Orientales_14Jul21