Friday, August 24, 2012
This gorgeous creature is a female pipevine swallowtail. The colorful butterfly is nectaring on one of my backyard zinnias—and is, incidentally, the butterfly I was chasing when I stumbled across the reposing queen snake featured in the previous post.
Pipevine swallowtails (Battua philenor), while not exactly uncommon in southwestern Ohio, aren't a species of butterfly I see every day. One reason, of course, is that like many of the various swallowtails, pipevines spend much of their sunny days fluttering and soaring in the upper canopy of the forest—maybe not too high up to notice, but too high for me to identify even through binoculars, and certainly too high for making a meaningful photograph for later scrutiny .
Too, if you don't pay close attention to the pattern of reddish-orange spots on the ventral hindwing, you can easily mistake them for spicebush swallowtails, black swallowtails, or female dark-phase tiger swallowtails. I'm getting better at butterfly identification, but remembering and sorting out field marks, in situ, still regularly leaves me confused, and is often better accomplished at my desk, where I can look at images and compare against guides.
Another reason why pipevine swallowtails aren't as widespread in the Buckeye state is because their namesake host plants—various Aristolochias, or pipevines—are themselves represented by only two or three species hereabouts, the most significant so far as the butterfly is concerned being Virginia snakeroot. Female butterflies lay eggs on leaves and stems of pipvines, and the red and black caterpillars feed exclusively on this plant, which contains a substance that renders them poisonous—as both caterpillar and adult butterfly—to predators…similar to the protection the monarch butterfly obtains due to its milkweed diet. Adult pipevine butterflies, however, feed only on nectar.
I must say the top image is one of my favorites of any I've made recently. It was breezy that morning, and the butterfly almost constantly fluttered its wings while feeding on one flower after another. I did make several quite similar shots which caught the pipevine's wings perfectly crisp and static, but it's that bit of blur at the top that makes the image for me. What do you think?