The Pipevine Swallowtail is a large black butterfly with iridescent blue on the body and wings and brilliant orange spots on the wing undersides. The showy wings attract attention, which in nature shouts, “I am toxic! Leave me alone!” Pipevine swallowtail larvae feed on plants such as Dutchman’s Pipe that contain intensely bitter aristolochic acids. These aristolochic acids are sequestered by the butterflies and used for defense.
The adults are less common in Tippecanoe County, Indiana, than the Black Swallowtail or the Tiger Swallowtail, probably due limited, high-quality larval habitat. Pipevine Swallowtails are more numerous in Southern Indiana near the Ohio River. The Pipevine Swalowtail is the “model” in a mimicry complex that includes the Black swallowtail, the Spicebush Swallowtail and the Female Tiger Swallowtail. The markings and resemblance are similar enough that visual identification requires a hard look at the key features. The Pipevine Swallowtail blue markings have a distinctive iridescent sheen that is lacking or not as intense in the other species. The white spots (and lack of other colors) on the upper wing surface is characteristic of the Pipevine Swallowtail.
The Pipevine Swallowtail constantly flutters its wings when collecting nectar. For photographers, the constant wing motion creates motion blur. A fast shutter speed is needed to “freeze” the wings in the photo. The adult in the photos below was nectaring at petunias on the Purdue Campus.