Monday, October 25, 2010

Black Swallowtail

Black Swallowtail Butterflies (Papilio polyxenes) are found in many regions of both North and South America, and have a handful of subspecies that reflect different areas. They are an abundant, secure species within low numbers found only on the fringes of the range. Black Swallowtails have a wingspan of between three and four inches.

(Image Source)
These Butterflies get their name from their predominantly black body which is outlined with yellow spots or bands. Males and females can be distinguished based upon the prominence of the yellow. Females have a more spotted yellow and a more obvious band of blue across their lower wings. It is believed that the coloration of Black Swallowtails is intended to mimic that of Pipevine Swallowtail, which is bad tasting.

Larvae of the species are banded black and white with yellow spots. The eggs are typically laid on plants belonging to the Apiaceae plant family, which are consumed by the larvae upon hatching. Adults feed on nectar and can be attracted to your garden by growing the types of plants that they lay their eggs on, including dill, carrots, and Queen Anne's Lace.

Caterpillars have a rather interesting defense mechanism. They have an organ on their necks known as an Osmeterium, which raises when threatened and produces and extremely distasteful odor.

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