Pipevine Swallowtail

Blue Swallowtail

Battus philenor

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The Pipevine Swallowtail is a beautiful butterfly renowned for its iridescent blue wings and the distinctive behavior of its caterpillars. This butterfly holds particular importance in the ecosystem due to its mutualistic relationship with the pipevine plant, from which it derives its name.

Pipevine Swallowtail

Common Name
Pipevine Swallowtail

Other Names

Blue Swallowtail

Latin Name

Battus philenor

Distribution

The Pipevine Swallowtail is found in many parts of North America, from Central America north through Mexico and the United States to Canada.

Appearance

Caterpillar: The caterpillars are black with bright orange-red spots, making them easily distinguishable from many other caterpillars. Butterfly: The adult butterfly has iridescent blue or blue-green wings on its dorsal side. The underside is black with a row of orange spots on the edge of the hindwing.

Size

The butterfly exhibits a wingspan ranging from 7 to 13 cm. The caterpillar can grow up to about 5 cm in length.

Habitat

These butterflies thrive in a range of habitats, including forests, meadows, and gardens, anywhere their host plant, the pipevine, is found.

Diet

Caterpillar: They feed almost exclusively on various species of the pipevine (Aristolochia species), from which they sequester toxic compounds. Butterfly: The adults nectar on a variety of flowers, but they seem to prefer thistles, clover, and milkweed among others.

Lifecycle

The lifecycle of the Pipevine Swallowtail follows the standard pattern for butterflies: egg → caterpillar (larva) → chrysalis (pupa) → adult butterfly.

Defense Mechanisms

Caterpillar: By consuming the toxic pipevine, caterpillars sequester aristolochic acid, making them poisonous to many potential predators. Their bright coloration warns predators of their toxicity. Butterfly: The adult butterfly retains the toxins acquired during its larval stage, making it distasteful and sometimes lethal to predators. Its iridescent blue coloration can also serve as a warning. Furthermore, several non-toxic butterflies mimic the Pipevine Swallowtail’s appearance, benefiting from the protection offered by its toxic reputation.

Ecological Importance

The Pipevine Swallowtail plays a vital role as a pollinator. Additionally, by consuming pipevines, the caterpillars help control the growth of these plants. They also serve as a food source for predators that have evolved tolerance to their toxins.

Conservation Status

The Pipevine Swallowtail is not listed as endangered or threatened. It’s common in many parts of its range.
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