Pipevine Swallowtail

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.

Pipevine Swallowtail

About jjneal

Jonathan Neal is an Associate Professor of Entomology at Purdue University and author of the textbook, Living With Insects (2010). This blog is a forum to communicate about the intersection of insects with people and policy. This is a personal blog. The opinions and materials posted here are those of the author and are in no way connected with those of my employer.
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2 Responses to Pipevine Swallowtail

  1. Connie E says:

    I live in Martinsville. I bought a couple dutchmanns pipevines for my caterpillars and before it had time to grow big enough. I found a couple caterpillars on it . To make a long story short. I need some vine for my caterpillars and can’t find without paying tons. Any idea where I can find some plants?

    • jjneal says:

      There are a lot of native plants in the family Aristolochiaceae, most of which are suitable food for pipevine swallowtail caterpillars. I would ask a local botanist or herbalist it they know of a nearby source. Your caterpillars will eat a lot, so you want to find plants close by. I do not know of any commercial source of large plants. Good luck.

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