It is unusual and a special treat to see clusters of any type of butterflies in one’s life. The photographs in this article are those that I took in July 2010 in Cherokee, North Carolina of clusters of Pipevine Swallowtail Butterflies (Battus philenor). These butterflies were gathered at a roadside, obtaining moisture from the dirt and stones after a rain shower. I drove by them in my travels, and turned around to view and observe them, getting the pictures that I’ve included here.
Pipevine Swallowtails are commonly found in North and Central America. They are especially numerous in North Carolina, with their larvae feeding on plant species of Aristolochia. These are poisonous plant species, making the Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly and it’s larvae poisonous. Birds and other natural predators leave them alone, and therefore, they thrive, particularly in the Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina.
Pipevine Swallowtails are black with iridescent dark blue hind wings. The Pipevines are beautiful, fluttery butteflies that really catch one’s eye due to the bright iridescence of their hind wings. Their wingspan is generally about 3″ to 3.5″ in length. The butterflies and their larvae can be found throughout the summer months, particularly in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Yesterday – July 24, 2012 – there was a pair of Eastern Tiger Swallowtails (Papilio glaucus) of the Female Black Form feasting on the nectar of our backyard garden flowers. The one pictured in my photos in this blog enjoyed remaining on the flowers for much of the day. She was very large, having a wingspan of between 4″-5,” I would estimate. This butterfly was so big, she could have initally been mistaken for a bird or bat, if one only caught a quick glimpse. She was certainly a beauty to behold!
When I was a kid, I always thought that this Female Black Form of the Tiger Swallowtail was a Black Swallowtail. Educating myself with my own studies and interest in entomology and Lepidoptera, I believed this butterfly was another beautiful type of Black Swallowtail. As I got older, I realized that this Black Female Form appeared very much like the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, and I believed that I may have come across a new species! On continuing to research this butterfly, I finally found that I had not discovered a new species, but was graced with the presence of a morphed form of the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail.
The Female Black Form of the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail mimics and is similar to the Pipevine Swallowtail, and is generally found where pipevine grows. That would make sense in my area since pipevine grows here in Georgia, and Pipevine Swallowtails are present here, as well. I have found that Pipevine Swallowtails, however, are more common in heavily-wooded and forested areas, particularly those of the North Georgia Mountains, Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina, and Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee, where they are annually-numerous.
While this lovely beauty of a butterfly laid claim to the backyard garden flowers, yesterday, I have not seen her again today as I had expected. I hope that she is feasting, enjoyably, elsewhere today, and that a predator has not made a meal out of her. She was in perfect condition when I observed her, and I expect that she had only just recently hatched from her chrysalis. By the size of her body, one could also guess that she had not yet laid her eggs, either. It was wonderful to see and photograph this beautiful butterfly!
Manduca inquemaculata, or the tomato hornworm, is a large green caterpillar, the larvae of sphinx or hawk moths. Tomato hornworms eat the foliage of tomato or tobacco plants, and are sometimes confused with tobacco hornworms since they look very similar to each other.
During the summer of 2011, there were several tomato hornworms that fed on the foliage of our tomato plants in Georgia. We purposely did not put any form of insecticides or insect powders on the tomato plants, just so the tomato hornworms would have a nice feast. By the end of the summer, there were at least five tomato hornworms feasting on our tomato plants. I also had the pleasure of taking two of them for “Show and Tell” in my son’s second grade class at his school in August 2011, later releasing them back onto the garden tomato plants.
One evening, shortly after ceasing to see the tomato hornworm larvae anymore, and assuming they had pupated, I happened to witness a large female praying mantis feeding on a tomato hornworm sphinx moth that she had caught. She had adeptly caught the moth while it was feeding on the nectar of a flower, holding it with her “praying” front legs. When she had finished eating it, she left only the wings that settled on the ground.
Pictured above is a photo of my son with one of the tomato hornworm “pets” that we lovingly observed, cared for, and “adopted” during the summer of 2011. I had placed the caterpillar on his shirt, and it felt ticklish to him as it crawled upward on his clothing. We had great fun with our tomato hornworm caterpillars last summer!
Pictured above is a tomato hornworm moth from my own personal Lepidoptera collection. It is one that I caught near Statesville, North Carolina in the summer of 2005. It is impressive and beautiful with it’s vivid coloring and bright orange body spots.