MU Extension horticulturist searches for rare Ozark butterfly

  • Published: Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – University of Missouri Extension horticulturist Kelly McGowan is on the hunt for the elusive Ozark woodland swallowtail, a pollinator unique to the Ozark region of southern Missouri and northern Arkansas.

McGowan works on a research project at the Roston Native Butterfly House at Springfield Botanical Gardens. She began scouting for the butterfly in 2018. While rare enough to appear on the Missouri Department of Conservation’s Species of Concern list, it likely still lives deep in Ozark forests.

J. Richard Heitzman founded a Ozark woodland swallowtail research program after he discovered the butterfly in the 1970s. According to the Butterflies and Moths of North America project, the most recent sightings occurred in 2017 in Morgan County and in Benton County in 2011.

McGowan says the butterfly is almost impossible to tell from its cousin, the black swallowtail, which has a similar wing pattern and coloring. Only a DNA test can positively distinguish between the two species.

While the black swallowtail prefers open meadows, the Ozark woodland swallowtail prefers deep woods. Woodland wildflowers in the carrot family such as yellow parsnip, yellow pimpernel and golden Alexander are hosts for its larvae.

Tom Riley, of the Branson chapter of MU Extension Master Gardeners, worked with Heitzman in the 1970s. Since 2018, Riley and McGowan have placed host plants in cedar glades in Ozark woodlands to attract swallowtail populations. They regularly scout for the butterflies with the help of MU Extension Master Naturalists and Master Gardeners in southwestern Missouri.

While unsuccessful so far, Master Gardeners and Master Naturalists did find 50 locations of black swallowtails in their search.

The Enns Entomology Museum on the MU campus in Columbia is home to Heitzman’s collection of Ozark woodland swallowtail specimens.

To learn about volunteer opportunities with Master Gardeners or Master Naturalists of Greene County, contact McGowan at 417-881-8909.

Find more information on the Roston Native Butterfly House at

Photos available:
MU Extension horticulturist Kelly McGowan places host plants for the Ozark woodland swallowtail in hope of drawing the butterflies so their presence can be recorded. Photo courtesy of Kelly McGowan.
The Enns Entomology Museum on the MU campus houses the Ozark woodland swallowtail collection of J. Richard Heitzman, who discovered the elusive butterfly in the 1970s. Photo courtesy of Kelly McGowan.

Writer: Linda Geist

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Kelly McGowan

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