Happy Friday to all of you! This week we thought we would take another look at one of our best local butterflies, the Black Swallowtail. Black Swallowtail is the common name for the species
Papilio polyxenes. For those of you who like to get out in the summers and enjoy the hot weather, you have undoubtedly seen a Black Swallowtail. They enjoy open spaces like fields, roadsides, and parks, and they like to stop and feed on nectaring wildflowers like Phlox, Thistle, Milkweed, and Joe Pye Weed. They are relatively fast flyers most of the time, but because they fly low to the ground in open spaces, you can see them from quite a distance away. As their name implies, they are mostly black, but they also have bright markings of yellow, blue, and orange. And being Swallowtails, they have tails on their hind wings. In our area, Black Swallowtails have three generations each summer, with the last generation overwintering as chrysalids until the following spring. As Swallowtails go, Black Swallowtails are not very large, usually with wingspans of about 2 ½ to 3 ½ inches. Having said that, there are only 3 local butterflies that are larger, Monarchs, Tiger Swallowtails, and Giant Swallowtails.
Black Swallowtails are one of the most widespread of the Swallowtail species, with distribution from Canada to Argentina. They also have many closely related species that obviously split off of the same family tree at various times to create new species. One of its closest related relatives, Papilio machaon, is distributed in North America, Europe, Asia and Japan. One of the best things about the Black Swallowtail is that it is relatively easy to observe. The males tend to “patrol” small territories, usually about 50 yards in diameter, so that they can control the “mating rights” with any female that flies into their territory. We have observed their impressive mating ritual that includes a darting acrobatic close proximity vertical flight rising as high as 100 feet!!! Pretty impressive for a butterfly that usually flies within a few feet off of the grass tops.
Another reason Black Swallowtails are somewhat easily observed, is that their caterpillars feed on the leaves of carrot, parsley, dill, and mustard. The female butterflies have to fly low to the ground in order to find suitable plants on which to lay their eggs. This is one of the best times to catch a momentary glimpse of the female while it is relatively stationary. And since the caterpillars can feed on many varieties of these plants, it is even possible to find them in your garden. The beautiful fully grown caterpillars are striped black and green with yellow spots. The adult Black Swallowtail is dimorphic, which means it has 2 forms. The male looks different from the female, with the male generally having more yellow, and the female having more blue. There is a fair degree of variation in this species, so serious collectors usually have a series of specimens representing the full degree of possible forms.
We think the Black Swallowtail is a wonderful butterfly to get your hobby started, whether to observe and photograph, or to actually start your collection. And speaking of starting your collection, we have a pair of Black Swallowtail butterflies in our Wonders Of Nature department. This beautiful pair of Black Swallowtails is mounted in one of our black Riker frames. It’s perfectly protected for younger collectors too, which allows them to “handle” the specimens close up for easy examination. And the best part is the price! This beautiful pair of Black Swallowtails is only $30!!! It’s the perfect gift to nurture a future Entomologist.
We hope you enjoyed this week’s edition of Friday Flyers. We love sharing our interest in butterflies, and we’d love to have you share these photos with all of your Facebook Friends. Be sure to look at our pictures of Black Swallowtails in our Friday Flyers album. We hope you’ll visit our Wonders Of Nature department soon, and we look forward to seeing you.
A female Black Swallowtail feeding on clover nectar.
A male Black Swallowtail, pinned on our spreading board
To preserve butterflies and expose their wings fully, they are pinned flat and allowed to dry for several weeks. Here, we have used clear pinning paper to allow you to see the wings. The paper holds the wings in the position we want, and the pins hold the paper in place around the wings. This is a female Black Swallowtail butterfly!
A pair of Black Swallowtail butterflies, framed in our black Riker frame. This pair is priced at just $30!!
A Black Swallowtail caterpillar feeding on wild carrot
A large Black Swallowtail caterpillar. These feed on carrots and dill, so look for them in your gardens!!