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Posts Tagged ‘Spicebush Swallowtail’

When I spotted a small patch of milkweed while exploring Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge earlier this month, I stopped and waited. I knew that numerous butterflies are attracted to this plant. Before long, several butterflies in fact appeared.

Here are photos of two of them, both swallowtail butterflies. The first one, a Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus), appears to be in perfect condition. Its wings and “tails” are intact and its colors are vibrant. By contrast the second butterfly, a Zebra Swallowtail (Protographium marcellus), is clearly a veteran. There are chunks missing from its wings and its long beautiful swallowtails are gone.

Do you find one of the butterflies to be more inherently beautiful than the other? Here in the United States, we tend to worship beauty and a standard of supposed perfection. We are daily bombarded with advertising messages that tell us we can look young again, that we can cover up our imperfections. The current focus on selfies and dating apps that allow you to judge others with a swipe encourages a kind of narcissism and attention to superficial appearances that I personally find to be unhealthy.

I remember watching a video several years ago about photographing nature. The photographer encouraged viewers to photograph only perfect specimens of flowers and insects, following the lead of those who say that in order to create beautiful photographs, you need beautiful subjects.

The photos here are my response to that kind of thinking. There is an incredible beauty to be discovered in the ordinary, everyday subjects that surround us, full of imperfections and blemishes. Take a moment today to slow down and truly experience that beauty.

Spicebush Swallowtail

Zebra Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was thrilled to capture some shot of a Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio troilus) this past weekend at Green Spring Gardens as it fed on a lantana flower. I am so used to more muted colors when I am shooting in the “wild” that the brightness of these flowers seem almost unnatural.

If you look closely at the butterfly’s legs in the first image, you will see that one of them is blurred. Obviously the butterfly was moving about and my camera’s shutter speed was too slow to stop the motion. In many cases I would be disappointed with that lack of sharpness, but I find that it acceptable here, because it doesn’t really distract the viewer’s eyes.

There are a number of dark-colored swallowtails in our area, but the Spicebush Swallowtail is the only one with a blue swoosh on its wings in the middle of a row of orange spots.

Spicebush Swallowtail

Spicebush Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Cardinal flowers (Lobelia cardinalis) are now in bloom at Huntley Meadows Park. In addition to being beautiful, these vivid red flowers attract butterflies, like this Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio troilus) that I spotted this past weekend at the park.

Spicebush Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Butterflies fly so expertly that I often can’t tell that they have severe wing damage until I look closely. That was certainly the case this past weekend when I was observing a dark swallowtail at Huntley Meadows Park.

I didn’t get an absolutely clear look at it, but I think it might be a Spice Bush Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio troilus), judging from its colors and patterns. In the first photo, you can see only minor damage, but when the butterfly changed position, the extent of the damage became much more apparent.

I consider flight to be somewhat of a mystery in any case, but it is even more of a mystery how a butterfly can fly so well when one of its wings is almost completely detached from its body,

Spicebush Swallowtail

Spicebush Swallowtail

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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I used to think that there were only one or two varieties of black-colored swallowtails, but as I learned there were more such species (some deliberating mimicking each other), I’d sometimes get confused and frustrated when trying to distinguish among them.

For example, I encountered this beautiful black swallowtail butterfly feeding on a Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis) this past weekend at my local marsh. It is definitely an unusual circumstance when I can identify a flower, but not the insect.

So, I asked myself, is this a female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail or a Pipevine Swallowtail or a Spicebush Swallowtail or a Black Swallowtail? How can you tell them apart, given they are all black and all have swallowtails?

While searching on the internet, I came across a wonderful blog posting on a site called Louisiana Naturalist that compared all four of these swallowtail species and pointed out clearly the distinguishing marks. Once I looked at the posting, it was pretty clear that “my” butterfly is a Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus). Why am I so confident? One of the identifying marks is the blue comet-like marking that interrupts the inner row of orange spots.

It’s interesting to see this butterfly feeding on the Cardinal Flower. The website of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at the University of Texas states that the Cardinal Flower depends on hummingbirds for pollination, because most insects find its long tubular flowers difficult to navigate. I suspect that butterflies play a role in pollinating these plants, even if they are not as efficient as bees would be (or maybe even hummingbirds).

Spicebush Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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