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”.
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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