The Spicebush Swallowtail Finally Makes It’s Appearance

Hello friends! Tonight’s feature image is titled “Spicebush Swallowtail On Cardinal Flower 1”. All of the photos are my original work and are available as prints by following the instructions at the bottom of the article.

I pulled into the parking lot of the little park at Kanawha Falls in my way home. I have been looking for the Spicebush Swallowtail all summer and I was beginning to think that I would strike out this season. I worried that I had jinxed myself by making a commitment back in the Spring. I knew that I would find something interesting to shoot in this spot and was actually trying to get some more ducks for my Things Are Just Ducky series so that I could expand the tales of George the mallard and his friends. But the ducks were all on the other side of the river.

Then I noticed the bright red spires of the Cardinal flower. These are also called Indian Paintbrush locally and they’re members of the Bellflower family and are sold as ornamental plants. I have a few pictures of them but they’re interesting to look at so I thought that a few more would be a good idea. As I stepped into the shade of the oaks I could see a dark spot fluttering around the bushes. Okay I thought. Another butterfly of any kind will add interest to the image. Raising the lens and zooming in as tightly as I could yielded a picture but the flash wasn’t really strong enough to reach out and freeze the wings.

Image Title: “Life In Motion”. Butterflies “groom” the flowers that they feed on. The fluttering of the forewings causes the flowers to sweeten their nectar.

The combination of the low light and extreme zoom didn’t quite hit the mark but it produced an interesting picture. The butterfly would only be there for a moment so tried to close the gap as quickly as possible. Unfortunately I started it and it disappeared into the forest. I tucked the camera back into its bag. Once I got the card into my laptop and pulled up the image I saw that pattern that I’ve been obsessed with all summer. The hind wings have a blue moon shape and a single row of cream colored dots along the margin. But this was a dorsal view and the main identifying mark was on the other side of the wing. I would be going back to that spot.

Over the next few days I stopped by looking for the Spicebush Swallowtail. I was certain that it was a female by the blue marks on it’s hind wings. The male has more of a greenish color leading the name of “Green Clouded Butterfly”.

Image Title: “Female Spicebush Swallowtail Feeding On Cardinal Flower”. The image gives us a clear view of the light blue marks on it’s hind wings.

The feature image came from the second encounter. This time she didn’t really seem to be bothered by presence. She even let me get a good shot of the blue chevron on the underside of the hind wings that is the identifying mark of the Spicebush Swallowtail.

Image Title: “Butterfly Peek-A-boo”. The third orange dot from the right is replaced by a blue chevron. Only the Spicebush Swallowtail has this mark.

The butterfly gets it’s name from hosting mainly on the Spicebush tree. I’ll be talking about the tree itself in an upcoming Forage Friday post but in short it’s another source for lemon flavored tea. Like the other Swallowtail Butterflies the Spicebush Swallowtail catipiller mimics the head of a snake. It even has a special organ that is forked and it can flick out to look like a snake’s tongue. I have not encountered a Spicebush Catipiller yet but as soon as I do I’ll be posting pictures and writing about the lifecycle of the butterfly larvae.

The main lesson I gained from my summer searching for a supposedly common butterfly that managed to elude me for months was that persistence pays off. The person who said that nothing is easy sure got it right but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

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Cardinal Flowers and a new myth

The Cardinal Flower is a common sight in Eastern North America. It’s an important resource for hummingbirds and it’s used Native American herbal medicine. (It is considered toxic to humans!) If you want to read more about the scientific information on Cardnial Flower you can click HERE. But, if you’re interested in the new myth then read on.

A very long time ago two tribes lived in the Appalachian mountains. They were separated by a large river. One tribe farmed and fished the Northern bank and the other made their living on the Southern side. They would occasionally trade by meeting in center of the flat water in dugout canoes. Until one winter day when a disagreement arose over a bad trade. From that point on the tribes would be enemies. The Northern chieftain had a young son who was a fearless warrior. He excelled in every challenge. When his father fell ill the tribe’s shaman sent him on a mission to gather fungus from the birch trees which was on the other side of the river. While gathering the fungus he stumbled upon a young maiden bathing in a side stream of the river. His heart skipped a beat and it was love at first sight. He was so struck by her beauty that he forgot where he was and stepped on a twig snapping it. The sound alerted her his presence and she gasped loudly when she realized she wasn’t alone. Their eyes met his love was returned. They were so lost in each other’s gaze that they didn’t notice the other warriors responding to her gasp until an arrow found it’s mark deep inside the young man’s chest. He stumbled towards her and died on the edge of the water. In her heartbreak, the maiden fainted in the middle of the stream and drowned. The warriors in both tribes were in shock. As they looked at the scene that had just played out a single red flower sprung up from the blood that was spilled on the water’s edge. To their amazement, a small bird with a ruby red throat rose from spot where the maiden fell. The bird flew over and began to kiss the flower and to this day when a hummingbird kisses a Cardnial Flower it’s a reminder that even death cannot stop true love.