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Archive for the ‘Butterflies’ Category

In my previous post, I wrote that the mutually beneficial relationship between Cardinal Flowers and their pollinating hummingbirds could be disrupted by an interloper.

The interloper in this case is the Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio troilus). The Spicebush Swallowtail is considered a nectar thief, a term used by ecologists to describe an insect that enters a flower to obtain nectar but that doesn’t pollinate it because the insect is physically incompatible with the flower. When the Spicebush Swallowtail sips nectar from a Cardinal Flower, its body usually doesn’t contact the flower’s reproductive parts sufficiently to pick up or deposit pollen.

Spicebush Swallowtail Papilio troilus on Cardinal Flower Lobelia cardinalis

Spicebush Swallowtail – a nectar thief of Cardinal Flower

Spicebush Swallowtails, sometimes two or three at a time, often descend upon my backyard Cardinal Flower patch to feed on nectar. If a hummingbird notices, it usually chases the swallowtails away, but the swallowtails quickly return.

The Spicebush Swallowtail is the only species of butterfly that I’ve seen feeding on Cardinal Flowers. I wondered why, since other butterfly species, like the Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) and Great Spangled Fritillary (Speyeria cybele), often visit my backyard. I learned that the Spicebush Swallowtail has the longest proboscis (over 9/10”, or 2.31 cm) of all the butterflies in my area and may be the only species that can reach the nectar at the base of the Cardinal Flower. The closely-related Tiger Swallowtail has a proboscis that’s about 2/3” (1.17 cm) long, while the Great Spangled Fritillary’s proboscis is just under 6/10” (1.45 cm) long. Neither of these two species has shown an interest in the Cardinal Flowers.

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In my previous post, I wrote about a Giant Swallowtail butterfly that visited my backyard in early August, an unusual sight for my area. I sought to learn more about this butterfly species.

Adult butterflies seek out areas that contain their larval host plants, those specific plant species that females lay their eggs on and that their caterpillar larvae feed on. Per butterfly field guides, various members of the Rue (Rutaceae) family are the host plants of the Giant Swallowtail. The better known members of this family are citrus trees like sweet orange (Citrus × sinensis). That’s why the Giant Swallowtail is so common in Florida. Farther north, native members of the Rue family include Prickly Ash (Zanthoxylum americanum) and Common Hop Tree (Ptelea trifoliata). (more…)

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It’s always exciting to see a new species of plant or animal, especially one that’s considered rare in your area. This happened to me earlier this month, when a Giant Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio cresphontes) visited my northern New Jersey backyard. This large, attractive butterfly is common in Florida, but becomes less abundant farther north.

Giant swallowtail or Papilio cresphontes dorsal

Giant Swallowtail

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Vanessa virginiensis or American lady

American Lady warming in the sun

One of the more common butterflies in my area is the American Lady (Vanessa virginiensis) which occurs throughout North America and into northern South America. Its wingspan is about 2 to 2 ½ inches and its upper wing surfaces are mostly orange with accents of brown and white. The upper hindwing has four black spots, the outer two spots having blue centers. Beneath, the wings remind me of stained glass, with a bright orange-pink patch on the forewing and a pair of prominent eye spots on the hindwing.

 

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