The Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly

There is a butterfly that is just, well, spectacular. No other word can possibly describe this one when you see it in person. Truly. It is none other than the Pipevine Swallowtail.

The Battus philenor has the most iridescent blue on its hindwing you've ever seen in a swallowtail found in North America. It is so brilliant that when the sun hits it, you just are in absolute awe. Sure, many will say that the Blue Morpho is gorgeous but the Morpho isn't a North American butterfly! Here is a swallowtail that is found in many areas of the United States.

This medium to large butterfly (wingspan from 2.75" to 5" across) is named after its host plant, the Pipevine. Interestingly, there are a number of different Pipevine
plants yet, this particular butterfly canNOT survive on just any of them. Like the Gulf Fritillary, it is quite persnickety and certain plants are deadly to its offspring. The Aristolochia (Pipevine) plants that this particular beauty's babies can eat are those NOT in the tropical range. So, use great care if you plan on raising them, please! Don't make the mistake of getting a 'Pipevine' plant and think that your beauty will be safe. You could end up with a lot of dead caterpillars.

Some 'safe' Aristolochia plants include A. tomentosa, A. durior, A. fimbriata, A. californica, and A. serpentaria.

The mama begins by ovipositing these reddish-brownish spheres in groups, usually on the vines, not the leaves…and the babies then hatch from these eggs. Like most butterflies, it can take from four days to a week for the little ones to hatch and when they do, they sure are cute!

With their big black heads and their bright orange-coloured bodies, the first instars have a rather interesting look. This swallowtail is a gregarious bunch; they enjoy hanging out with their siblings. It is rare to see one by its lonesome!

After the initial ravenous eating and pooping stage, the second instar shows a somewhat different 'look' for the PVS larva. Gone is that big black head. The colouring is still about the same but now the body has begun to develop a sort of rugged, rigged look. It is beginning to have the contours of the more 'adult' larvae although the colouring is still more orange.

And, yes, these little ones do eat their exuviae once they've molted, in case you were wondering…

Now, initially, the Pipevine Swallowtail larvae don't seem to eat much. Nope, they seem to be quite lackadaisical in their search for food. Don't let them fool you though! The 1st, 2nd, and even 3rd instars just aren't THAT big of a 'hungry munching machine' as are the later instars! You'd best have a LOT of Pipevine (Arisolochia) available!

They may not seem to eat much initially, but just wait. These little guys turn into the most amazing leaf munchers around!

Oh, there is something that hsan't been mentioned yet. If you are familiar with the swallowtail larvae, then this is not new to you. But for those of you who are new to the swallowtails, then BEWARE! And, all of you who are new to the Pipevine Swallowtail should definitely take note. These pretty little caterpillars have the most noxious odour imaginable! That's right…odour as in SMELL as in STINK!!!! If you have ever smelled a used, nasty cat litter box, then that is about what raising PVS is like…yep, you got it! Check out this picture. See the osmeterium? This little fleshy organ is what the little bugger sticks out to scare away predators and when it comes out, then your nose had better watch out! That's when the smells begin!

You can get an idea that the osmeterium is about to come out when you see…

Then you know that trouble is coming soon!

When the PVS caterpillar is in the 3rd instar, this is when the MAJOR eating and pooping begins. It is truly amazing just how much foliage these caterpillars can consume. Not only can they consume massive quantities but they are L-O-U-D when they chew! (Didn't their mamas teach them to talk AFTER they've finished chewing and swallowing?)

Again, because this is a 'swallowtail,' the pupa will hang from a sling/harness instead of the 'J' or head-down position. Pipevine Swallowtails are unusual (at least to me) because they do not, and I repeat, they do NOT eclose in a timely manner like other butterflies. Nope, they 'choose' when they plan on eclosing. This beauty will overwinter (be in diapause) as a pupa and I've had some in diapause for over 14 months! Yes, then after 14 months, a gorgeous butterfly emerged and flew off…

Never underestimate the Pipevine Swallowtail. They STILL never cease to amaze me!