I am still on the hunt for a Spicebush Swallowtail. What I didn’t account for was the number of look-alikes that dwell in the Appalachian Mountains. The more that read up on the differences between the Swallowtail Butterflies the more that I’ve had to go back and check references as I sort through my photos. I have Spicebush on my property. I have taken lots of butterfly pictures. There should be at least one of the Spicebush Swallowtail. What I’ve discovered is that the majority of black and blue photos that I have are of the Pipevine Swallowtail.
The online guides all show that a major distinction between the two species is that the abdomen of the Pipevine Swallowtail is blue.
Pipevine Swallowtails get their name from the fact that they host on pipevine which is also known as Camphor Vine.
A twisted camphor vine in Kanawha County West Virginia.
As the larvae feeds on the Pipevine it sequesters certain chemicals in the vine that makes it taste horrible to predators. Or so the experts say. I’m not a bit envious of the scientists who had to test that theory. 🤢
The males are know to collect and accumulate sodium from the mud as a gift to bribe the female with. Wikipedia says that this is most common in presence of other rival males. I checked and found that I have a photo of this behavior.
I believe that this photo shows two male Pipevine Swallowtails gathering sodium from the mud while a female in the middle waits to see who has the better gift.
An insect’s nervous system is dependent on the same mineral balance as a human. But they can’t can’t really get everything they need from nectar. So butterflies and some others look for those dissolved minerals in wet places.
Trying to get a good shot of a butterfly has proven to be a little bit of challenge. I stepped out of the house yesterday to find a blue and black Swallowtail zooming around my yard like a jet fighter. Even using the same technique that I’ve used to photograph athletes failed to provide a positive ID on the butterfly.
This is a blue and black Swallowtail coming in low like a jet fighter but I still can’t get a positive ID on which kind.
I needed a good look at the underside of the wings. I followed the behavior pattern of this particular butterfly and noticed that it seemed to be flying a figure eight pattern as it searched for nectar. I anticipated it’s next loop and keeping my camera in burst mode I managed to get a shot in the underside of the wings.
I managed to catch the underside of the wings as the butterfly engaged in a breaking maneuver.
The angle of the sun caused the butterfly to be in it’s own shadow but I can make out a single row of dots on the underside of the wings. If this were a Spicebush Swallowtail there would be a double row. The single row of dots and the fact that at least one of the dots is blue and not orange tells me that it’s most likely to be a dark morph of the female Tiger Swallowtail.
And so the search for a Spicebush Swallowtail continues for now. I know that there’s one close by and that I just need to be in the right place at the right time to catch it.
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