(Eastern) Black Swallowtail

You know when you are out photographing, you never know what you will find, but once you find it, you’re like ‘WOE.’

Nature always surprises me and teaches me so many things I never thought possible, and while out photographing, I noticed a couple of butterflies on a plant that looked like they were just born. So here’s a plant that I see all the time but I never knew it was a host plant for the black swallowtail butterfly.

(It’s always an excellent habit to say out loud or silently whisper every plant or animal species you come across. Doing this repetitively can help you learn common names and keep your memory fresh)

Florida has ten known species of swallowtails:

  • Eastern Giant Swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes)
  • Palamedes Swallowtail (Papilio palamedes)
  • Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus)
  • Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes)
  • Zebra Swallowtail (Eurytides marcellus)
  • Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus)
  • Pipevine Swallowtail (Battus philenor)
  • Schaus’ Swallowtail (Papilio aristodemus)
  • Bahamian Swallowtail (Papilio andraemon)
  • Polydamas Swallowtail (Battus polydamas)

The most common that we do see are the top seven on the list. The eastern tiger and the zebra are relatively easy to id, but the others can be very confusing to id especially from a distance.

Both the black and spicebush swallowtails have black bodies with white dots. The black swallowtail has consistent orange marks on their wings, whereas the spicebush has a break, some call a blue swoosh marking. Plus, the spicebush swallowtail is the coolest looking caterpillar. 

To start photographing butterflies, it’s a huge help to learn about host plants and know when they bloom and what habitat the plants prefer. So when you are in a sandhill habitat and it’s summer, you know what flowering plants to look for that will draw certain butterflies. 

What is a host plant

Host plants are the specific plants that insects lay their eggs on or near. In this case, the Water Cowbane (Tiedemannia filiformis) plant is a host plant for the black swallowtail butterfly. The female will lay her eggs on this plant, and the caterpillar larvae can eat the plant before forming its chrysalis. 

Water Cowbane | Alice Mary Herden

Water Cowbane, a host plant for the Black Swallowtail. Photo by Alice Mary Herden

Nature can also give a reason, as well as inspiration, to conduct your own research. I find it more exciting and fascinating when I dig into researching by myself, that way I can learn different things that can take me to other areas of interest.

I was able to photograph three stages of the black swallowtail. The caterpillar, chrysalis, and butterfly. I am sure there are eggs on these plants, but where the plants were located, I was not keen on trekking through some wet and thick vegetation. That’s why it is nice to have a 400mm lens and a telephoto 2x extender on hand. 

Black Swallowtail Caterpillar | Alice Mary Herden

Black Swallowtail caterpillar preparing to begin its metamorphosis. Photo by Alice Mary Herden

Black Swallowtail Chrysalis | Alice Mary Herden

Black Swallowtail pupa (chrysalis). The caterpillar is changing and transforming into a butterfly.  Photo by Alice Mary Herden

Black Swallowtail Chrysalis | Alice Mary Herden

Black Swallowtail pupa (chrysalis). The brownish color of the pupa shows that the metamorphosis is almost complete. Photo by Alice Mary Herden

!Cat 5Black Swallowtail Chrysalis | Alice Mary Herden

Black Swallowtail’s empty chrysalis. Photo by Alice Mary Herden

Black Swallowtail | Alice Mary Herden

Black Swallowtail newly emerged from its chrysalis. Photo by Alice Mary Herden

It was very interesting to see all this in one location. Now I know when I see water cowbanes in an open pine wet prairie I know what to look for.

I hope you enjoyed this post!

Stay safe!


Links:

https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?page=9&place_id=21&subview=grid&taxon_id=49973&view=species

http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/bfly/bfly2/eastern_black_swallowtail.htm

https://www.fnps.org/plants/butterflies

 

 

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