Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Pipevine Swallowtail

Pipevine Swallowtails (Battus philenor) are gorgeous butterflies native to North and Central America. With a wingspan of 3 1/2 inches they are a large black swallowtail with beautiful iridescent blue hindwings. Males have more blue on their wings than females. They have seven orange spots on the underside of the hindwings. While these butterflies can occur in a wide variety of habitats they seem to favor forested areas. The one photographed here is a male that was perched high in a tree. I assume it was waiting for a passing female to mate with.

Much like monarchs that feed on milkweed which gives them protection from predation, this species also feeds on toxic plants. In the case of pipevine swallowtails they feed on plants in the Aristolochia family which are pipevines, dutchman's pipe and birthworts. As they feed on the plant in the caterpillar stage, they take in the toxins of the plant making them unpalatable to would-be predators. Like monarchs they will be toxic in all stages of life from caterpillar to adult.

The adults nectar at a wide variety of plants including thistles, bergamot, lilac, azaleas, teasel, phlox, petunias, lantana, verbena, and butterfly bush to name but a few. If you want to attract these butterflies to your yard, first make sure you are in an area where they are known to occur, then plant the host plants. Host plants provide nutrition to the caterpillars and with most butterflies being plant specific in their needs, the female will be looking for suitable host plants to lay eggs on. Most any nectar plants will suffice to attract butterflies.

Many species of butterflies have adapted coloration similar to the Pipevine which affords them a certain amount of protection from predation. The dark phase of the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, The Black Swallowtail, The Ozark Swallowtail, Spicebush Swallowtail, Red-Spotted Purple and the Diana Fritillary all take advantage of the defense implemented by the pipevine.


  1. The pipevine is no specialist of forests: he's the most common large lep. in our deserts, too. I've attached a photo of the cat: In the afternoon, they all leave the pipevine (which crawls close to the ground here) and climb up on grasses and such. You can find dozens of them hanging there - maybe it's thermoregulation, maybe they are avoiding the nightly raids of ground beetles?

  2. im not sure if thats the one im looking for i found an injured butterfly but i dont know how to take care of it and putting in the wild with a clipped wing is not an option so im taking of it for as long as i can