Posts Tagged ‘Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly’

Butterflies were really active this past Monday at Huntley Meadows Park, especially around the buttonbushes (Cephalanthus occidentalis). A dark swallowtail butterfly caught my eye and my mind raced to remember how to distinguish among the various dark swallowtails. Fortunately I had enough presence of mind to capture some images, knowing I could search different resources when I got home.

I’m pretty confident that the butterfly in question is a Pipevine Swallowtail (Battus philenor). One of its distinguishing characteristics is a single row of orange spots in the shape of a C. As I was searching the internet, I came across a wonderful posting by Louisana Naturalist that has side-by-side photos of four different dark swallowtails —the Black Swallowtail, the dark morph of the female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, the Spicebush Swallowtail, and the Pipevine Swallowtail.

As I was trying to get a shot of this butterfly, which was in constant motion, another insect decided to photobomb us. I think it is a bee and I am including a photo of the photobombing insect just for fun.

Pipevine Swallowtail

Pipevine Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This past weekend I spotted a black swallowtail fluttering about some bright orange flowers, never stopping for more than a split second. Could I get a shot before it flew away?

Well, I managed to get some shots and then came the tough part—figuring out which black-colored swallowtail I had captured. How hard can that be? For a casual observer like me, there were at least three candidates that immediately came to mind—the black version of the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, the Spicebush Swallowtail, and the Pipevine Swallowtail. I recalled that one of the key indicators is the pattern of the orange spots, but I couldn’t remember which one had which pattern.

After some quick research, I’ve concluded this is probably a Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly (Battus philenor). I was also really taken by the orange plant and think it might be butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), a type of milkweed that, as its name suggests, attracts butterflies.

Pipevine swallowtail

Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Buttonbushes are now blooming at my local marsh, attracting beautiful butterflies, including this Pipevine Swallowtail and this Great Spangled Fritillary.

I don’t know what it is about the Common Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), but butterflies seem to find it irresistible. Several Pipevine Swallowtails (Battus philenor) flitted all around the bushes in frenetic motion, hardly every stopping to perch. The Great Spangled Fritillary (Speyeria cybele), however, seemed to take its time, lingering over each of the spiky spherical globes of the buttonbush.


© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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How many kinds of black swallowtail butterflies can there possibly be? Until yesterday, the only black swallowtail that I had ever encountered was the black variant of the female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail. (Check out my posting from last year to see the two variants of the female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, a characteristic known as dimorphism.)

Yesterday, while walking along the boardwalk at my local marshland park, I came across a black butterfly feeding on a Buttonbush. Clearly it was a swallowtail and it was equally obvious that it was not an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail. I remembered that there was another black swallowtail called a Spicebush, so I figured that was what it had to be. When I checked out the photos of the Spicebush Swallowtail on-line, though, none of them seemed to match my butterfly exactly.

It was only today, when I was looking through photos with my photograph mentor, Cindy Dyer, that I realized that there was yet another black swallowtail and have concluded that the unknown butterfly is almost certainly a Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly (Battus philenor). It looks a lot like the Spicesbush, but the pattern of the orange dots are different, as pointed out in this posting by Don Lambert on the Earth Science Picture of the Day blog.


© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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