The Pipevine Lifeline: We’re Expecting Pipevine Swallowtails!

by Jul 19, 2017News2 comments

The Pipevine Lifeline

By Krista Botting, Summer Field Biologist

New York State sits at the very edge of the Pipevine Swallowtail (Battus philenor) butterfly’s breeding range. Bedford Audubon is lucky to play host to a few batches of this beautiful butterfly’s eggs. While working in the Leon Levy Native Garden, our Garden Intern, Alex, and Executive Director, Janelle, spotted a strikingly blue butterfly fluttering around some Pipevine (Aristolochia macrophylla and Aristolochia tomentosa, also known as Dutchman’s Pipe) growing up the posts of Bylane Farm’s back porch. They witnessed one of nature’s marvels: the beginning of a new generation as the butterfly laid eggs on the large heart-shaped leaves.

Throughout their lives, Pipevine Swallowtails are fairly toxic—the eggs, caterpillars, and butterflies leave an unpleasant taste in the mouth of potential predators. They owe this protection to the toxin aristolochic acid, found in the leaves of the the Pipevine. Because of this, several other species of butterfly mimic either the caterpillar or adult stage. Known as Batesian mimicry, adult butterflies like Spicebush Swallowtail, Black Swallowtail, Tiger Swallowtail, Red-spotted Purple, and Diana Fritillary all look very similar to the adult Pipevine Swallowtail, but are not actually toxic. A different kind of mimicry, Mullerian mimicry, exists when animals resemble each other, and share a common protection. The larvae of the Pipevine Swallowtail and the larvae of the Polydamas Swallowtail look alike and both species feed on Pipevine, and both are therefore toxic.

Our swallowtail laid her eggs on July 5, so the larvae are still fairly small. This butterfly laid at least five clusters that we’ve found, and we’ll be following their progress as they grow into beautiful adults in their own right. Both of the Pipevines in the Native Garden are nurseries for the caterpillars. It will take about a month for them to grow up and disperse from the Pipevine to overwinter in the chrysalis stage, but we will continue to keep an eye on them and report back here as they grow up.

Eager to learn more about these butterflies and others? Sign up for our Butterfly Workshop on Saturday, July 22, from 10am to 1pm (we still have room. The cost is $40 for members, or $60 for non-members, and includes a book. Please register by emailing Susan at info@bedfordaudubon.org.

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  1. Bedford Audubon Society » Pipevine Lifeline: They're on the Move - […] been tracking the Pipevine caterpillars’ growth and progress, including dispersal. Check out the videos that Summer Field Biologist Krista…

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