Fauna of the Week--Pipevine Swallowtail

Fauna of the Week--Pipevine Swallowtail

This week's Fauna is the Pipevine Swallowtail, primarily because I need to get it properly in my head and quit confusing it with the Spicebush Swallowtail. (Click on links to see the differences.) Now, the only way you're going to get one of these puppies flying through your backyard is to either plant some pipevine or have neighbors who have already done so. You should be warned that pipevine can look rather... alarming. Don't say you weren't warned. Make sure you plant it where you won't offend your neighbors!

(1st photo: you can just see the electric blue hind wings with their ring of white spots. 2nd photo: the bright orange spots that show on the underside of the wings is a much-imitated trademark.)

Pipevine Swallowtail is very species-specific in that the larval form only eats pipevine. Nothing else will do. You may have heard of Dutchman's Pipe or Virginia Snakeroot--these are both in the pipevine family and will serve as groceries for pipevine caterpillars. Plant members of the pipevine family are poisonous. As the caterpillars gorge themselves on these plants, the toxins "become one with the bug" and make the caterpillars themselves poisonous. Hence the large number of black swallowtails out there--they are all trying to look like pipevine swallowtails so that nobody eats them!

Pipevine Swallowtails will use many plants as nectar sources, though thistles are one of their favorites. But they will not hang around your yard to lay eggs unless you have pipevine. I've got a fuzzy picture here of their caterpillars (mature when they have the red spikes) and a side view of the pipevine flower on Dutchman's Pipe. Dutchman's Pipe is also known as Calico Flower. Be careful in your selection, however. Not all pipevines are safe for our native species. To be certain, you want to find aristolochia tomentosa, which is the native for North America. To get it, you may need to speak with your local garden center about ordering from a nursery that deals in natives.

Watching pipevine swallowtails is a real delight as the sun hits that florescent blue. These pictures were taken off the Blue Ridge Parkway (of the butterflies, not the caterpillars and vine) but you can find them in at least half of the United States.

Happy hunting!

Stars and Crickets

Outside the Yard

Outside the Yard