The emerald swallowtail’s scientific name comes from the epic poem the Aeneid, written by Virgil. The emerald swallowtail is scientifically known as Papilio palinurus. Papilio meaning “butterfly” and palinurus referring to the captain in Virgil’s Aeneid. This Latin name implies that the emerald swallowtail is a navigator of sorts. Considering the bright green of the butterfly’s wings that immediately draw your attention to whichever way it is going, this assumption is quite novel.
The emerald swallowtail’s inside wing color and outside wing color differ drastically. The outside is less impressive than the inside. The outside is comprised of dusty greys with the some blue and orange dots towards the bottom of the wing. This collage gives a sense of a starry night sky. The inside colors, however, are very much like a spotlight. Dusky dark green with a sudden streak of radiation green angled on either side. Certainly a pleasant surprise when not suspecting it. It has been speculated that the bright inside coloration is used by the emerald swallowtail to confuse predators from above, and the dull outside colors are used to camouflage the swallowtail from potential predators below.
This beautiful display is produced by microstructures, not pigment, in the butterfly’s wing. These microstructures reflect blue and yellow light away from the wing. Since these microstructures are close together, the reflected blue and yellow light mash together and our eyes perceive it as green. If you rub the butterfly’s wing, you destroy these microstructures.
This butterfly is, sadly, not native to the United States. It is native to Southeast Asia. It primarily lives in forested regions. The caterpillars of this species feeds on members of the citrus family. This latter fact makes this species potentially invasive to citrus productions. Despite this, its unique coloration has made the emerald swallowtail popular among butterfly houses around the world.