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Why Do Tiger Swallowtails Cluster?

If you have a flower garden, it’s probably a common sight for you to see lots of butterflies flitting over the flowers. You may have even seen tiger swallowtails among the visitors. But have you ever seen these majestic yellow butterflies grouped together at a pond or mud puddle? What are they doing there? Why do tiger swallowtails cluster like this? Keep reading! In this article, we’ll discuss this strange behavior in greater detail.

Are Tiger Swallowtails Social Animals?

Are Tiger Swallowtails Social Animals

Tiger swallowtails are not known for being social creatures. In fact, most of the time they are quite solitary.

As caterpillars, they grow up alone, depending on themselves for finding food and staying alive. When they are ready, they morph into the pupal stage, choosing a safe, solitary spot to do so.

When they emerge as butterflies, they continue to spend most of their time alone, flying from flower to flower for nectar and continuing to depend on themselves for their own survival.

There are only two instances when they show signs of social behavior. The first of these is when they are mating.

Male tiger swallowtails perform a sort of “mating dance” by fluttering around their chosen female. If she accepts him, they may flutter together in a mutual dance before mating.

Many people mistake this mating dance for aggressive behavior, but tiger swallowtails aren’t known for fighting. In fact, their other main social behavior involves several males coming together peacefully at ponds or puddles in a behavior known as “puddling.”

Why Do Tiger Swallowtails Cluster at Ponds and Puddles?

If you’ve never seen a group of tiger swallowtails puddling, it’s a sight to behold. Check out the large cluster of puddling butterflies in the video below:

So, why do tiger swallowtails behave like this?

Puddles, pond edges, and other damp muddy or sandy spots are full of salts and other minerals. These minerals are not present in the nectar of flowers, but they are thought to be necessary for activating certain bodily functions in the adult butterfly, such as reproductive ability and temperature regulation.

This would explain why only young butterflies puddle; the older ones have already received the nutrients they need and, therefore, don’t need to keep doing it. 

It’s also worth noting that only male tiger swallowtails puddle, so there is reason to believe that females’ bodily functions don’t need to be activated in the same way, or that they don’t have the same mineral requirements as the males.

Because only the young males puddle, clusters of puddling butterflies are sometimes called “bachelor parties.” In addition to ponds and muddy puddles, tiger swallowtails may also cluster around spots of exposed mud or wet sand, wet gravel roads, and even areas where larger animals frequently urinate.

Read also: Difference Between Black Vs. Tiger Swallowtails

How to Attract Puddling Tiger Swallowtails?

You’ve planted the flowers and host plants to attract tiger swallowtails to your yard; perhaps you would also like to create an environment for them to puddle in as well.

Turns out, you don’t have to have a pond or a gravel driveway on your property; all you need is some mud, sand, or gravel.

Creating an area for puddling butterflies is as simple as digging an area in your flower garden or yard so that the soil is exposed. You’ll want to keep this area damp, perhaps even slightly soggy, by watering it thoroughly each day.

If you don’t want to dig up an area of your yard, you could put some sand on the ground or in a large, flat plastic container. You’ll want to keep this sand moist as well, watering it about once a day, or more if you live in a dry environment.

You could also create an area for puddling by filling a bird bath with sand, mud, or gravel and water. By using a bird bath, you keep the area elevated so that the butterflies you attract will be safe from cats or other animals that may sneak up on them while they’re puddling.

As you can see, there are many ways to create an area for butterfly puddling in your yard. Use your imagination and see what you can come up with.

Why Are There So Many Tiger Swallowtails?

Why are there So Many Tiger Swallowtails

You may be amazed by the sheer number of tiger swallowtails you attract to your puddling areas. It may cause you to wonder, why are there so many of these butterflies?

Tiger swallowtails are common butterflies that are not currently in danger of extinction. There are so many of them, in part, because they have such a wide variety of food sources.

There are four different types of tiger swallowtails, and each one has a slightly different distribution. Altogether, they cover most of North America, from Northern parts of Canada, down throughout the United States, and even into parts of Mexico.

As you might imagine, they have different host and nectar plants available to them in these different regions. While some butterflies are picky and prefer to lay eggs on only one type of plant, tiger swallowtails will use a variety of plants depending on what’s available to them.

A greater variety of host plants leads to more eggs being laid and more caterpillars reaching the pupal stage. The more caterpillars and chrysalises there are, the greater the number of adult butterflies there will be.

In its own way, puddling also helps the species continue and ensures a greater number of butterflies will be created. Since puddling seems to positively affect a male’s reproduction, the behavior appears to be necessary for successful mating and the laying of fertilized eggs.

Conclusion

Tiger swallowtails are normally solitary creatures, but they do sometimes cluster together in a behavior called puddling. This happens when several young male butterflies group together at a puddle or other damp area to sip muddy or sandy water, taking in necessary minerals and nutrients in the process.

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