Wow, sometimes things are meant to be…

Yesterday, while hanging out the laundry (by the way, about 20 minutes later, we had a terrific downpour…eh, this happens to me all the time; in fact, if your neighbourhood/town/country is going through a drought, just invite me over to do some laundry…it will rain immediately, and the crops will be saved…), I dropped an item on the lower terrace, which is adjacent to our back garden. As I was going down the terrace stairs to retrieve it, I saw a rather large something fluttering about our enormous lavender plant. I took a closer look…img_0333and there was the most extraordinary butterfly I have ever seen, certainly in Italy. I dashed inside to grab my camera and spent the next 15-20 minutes (or more) alternately taking photographs and standing still to admire this gorgeous insect.


But wait a sec. This didn’t look like any of the butterflies that I have seen in Italy. Since I am not a lepidopterologist, though, I had to wait until later to do some research on my butterflying friend. I was lucky. I described her (him?) as a zebra-like butterfly and, sure enough, almost immediately came up with what must be the species: a zebra swallowtail butterfly, or Eurytides marcellus, see: It is also img_0323known as the paw paw butterfly, since the caterpillar likes to feed on young and tender paw paw plants (coincidentally, paw paw is used as an alternative cancer treatment, see…)…


But get this: according to various butterfly websites, my little friend lives exclusively in Northern America, mostly in the eastern United States, north-east Mexico and south-east Canada. I found no mention of sightings anywhere in Europe… So how did this marvellous critter land in my garden? Is this the ONLY sighting of the zebra swallowtail butterfly in all of Europe?


img_0299My friend had a slight injury to her left wing but otherwise seemed fine. She certainly drank an enormous amount of nectar from my lavender blooms, using her proboscis, or long flexible tongue (see photos). After taking about a million photographs, I went to call Stefano and my parents. Stefano arrived with his super duper camera and took several photos, too. When it began raining, though, we had to go back into the house.


And to think that if I hadn’t dropped something on the lower terrace, I/we would have missed seeing and photographing this lovely creature…as my post title reads, sometimes things are meant to be…


Well, I just hope that nothing has happened to her (our neighbourhood is filled with butterfly predators, unfortunately…), and that she will be back in my garden later today. The sun is out today, and I won’t do any laundry…


  1. Great spot Margaret!
    American butterflies have been known to cross the Atlantic – Monarchs are well known long distant migrants and regularly get blown off course. They turn up in the UK most years. I haven’t heard of this butterfly migrating to Europe before but it might be a possibility – especially if the climatic conditions are right. Of course, it is also possible that it could have been an escapee from a collection or butterfly farm. It is worth talking to a local butterfly group or entomological society. I am sure they will be very interested in your discovery.

  2. Those pictures are fabulous. We have those in Arizona but they are darker. Nature can really take you to another place! We could use your rain skills out here!

  3. A zebra butterfly has just settled on our front door. We live in the Deux Sevre and have never seen one before. It’s beautiful

  4. Lovely pictures of yours – I’m in Italy too and we have these in our garden too. First time we have seen them. Beautiful and extraordinary creatures. Tried to attach our not so good photo but don’t know how to do it here. Definitely have them here though!

  5. I agree with the poster above – I am in midwestern US, and this is not a Zebra Swallowtail (eurytides marcellus) – I have studied lepidoptera for many years. The butterfly is the Sail or Scarce Swallowtail .Beautiful, aren’t they? The Zebra has more color and contrast, and has long been my favorite butterfly.

  6. Found one in Flassan, just south of Mont Ventoux, Provence, August 2013. It would appear this species is no longer exclusive to the Americas.

    By the way, if this ever gets posted your CAPTCHA program is awful.

  7. I saw a zebra swallowtail in Spain today. In Canada Buendia, Socovos, La Mancha. It was beautiful like a cross between a Bindweed and black and white fan.

  8. I have seen the zebra three times this week, late morning in full sun. We have lavendar, sunflowers, geranium and tomatoes blooming at the moment – no sight of a paw paw round here. Any clues what the zebra butterfly comes to feast on please?

  9. Just seen this butterfly on my Zinnias, I am on the Haute Vienne, Dordogne border, it also has some damage to one of its wings.

  10. I just received an e-mail picture of a pot growing parsley and beautiful green and black striped larva of swallowtail butterflies all over the parsley eating it…….

  11. Hi My wife and I have just seen one this afternoon, it is truly beautiful. We have photo and by the way we live on the edge of the Movan National park near Autun in Burgundy France.

  12. I’ve seen this butterfly on a lavender bush outside my kitchen window. Absolutely beautiful. I live in the Auvergne , central France deep in the Bourbonnais countryside and it’s been really hot, perhaps that’s why it’s here?

  13. Hi Margaret, I saw a Zebra Swallowtail today feasting on a pot of Marigolds in the ancient city of Erice, Trapani. This is surprising (to me at least) because Erice is situated atop a mountain in Sicily; 751 metres altitude, according to Wikipedia. My first sighting at such a height and since it is in Italy, thoughts I should let you know.


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