American Museum Specimens Join the Swarm of Swallowtails

As WeDigBio rapidly approaches, we have one last batch of Swallowtail butterflies ready for transcription — these from the American Museum of Natural History. By now you (and I) may have seen quite a few of these large, colorful butterflies. Do we really need more?

Yes! I’m working toward understanding variations in wing shape across the full geographic range and diversity of the group. Some museums have particular strengths in certain parts of the world, and more established museums like the American Museum and the Smithsonian (remember that batch from last month?) have specimens that are particularly rare and historic. This is valuable to me because I want to examine specimens from all species of New World Swallowtails, and this trip to the American Museum completed my collection of digital images.

I was particularly excited to come across several specimens of the Esperanza Swallowtail, Pterourus esperanza. These were the first I had seen in visits to three other major museums and searching through thousands of specimens. Esperanza Swallowtails are found only in the cloud forests of the Northern Sierra in Oaxaca, Mexico, and weren’t even described until 1975. A 2013 study estimated the population size to be 286 individuals. The precious few specimens at the American Museum can help give us insight into the evolutionary context for this rare and enigmatic species. That understanding can hopefully help better conserve this and other swallowtail species.


Sierra Juarez, Oaxaca, Mexico


Papilio esperanza, Oaxaca, Mexico

Keep an eye out for these neat oddities as you transcribe. They’re a treat!

— Hannah Owens, Postdoctoral Associate, Florida Museum of Natural History


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