Big Butterflies #2: Dark Wings

eastern tiger swallowtail, dark morph: dorsal view, closeup showing markings on hindwings

While researching butterflies I learned that there are six dark-winged swallowtail species in Maryland: the black, giant, palamedes, pipevine, spicebush, and dark morph eastern tiger.

eastern tiger swallowtail, dark morph: ventral view showing hindwing markings

The dark winged butterfly that I had been shooting on joe-pye weeds [see previous post] was a dark morph eastern tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus). The dark morphs are always females.

eastern tiger swallowtail, dark morph: ventral view showing body


Several characteristics distinguish dark morphs from other butterflies with dark wings, but the one that’s a dead giveaway is the lack of white spots on the body.

eastern tiger swallowtail, dark morph: ventral view showing white “dashes” on wings





Also note that the white marks on the trailing edge of the forewing are elongated: dashes rather than spots.

dorsal view










It wasn’t until the next day, while I was shooting yet another species of butterfly (subject of a future post), that I saw what I thought was a spicebush swallowtail (Papilio troilus). I didn’t even realize at the time that’s what it was, because I was so focused on the other one that I didn’t stop to think that this particular butterfly was actually resting on a spicebush.

ventral view


Note the round spots on the body, and also the fingertip-shaped bluish markings at the trailing edge of the hindwing. The lack of a lighter patch in front of those blue marks indicates that this is a female. SEE UPDATE BELOW.

Spicebush swallowtails range from eastern Texas north into the Midwest and southern New England, and south into Florida. Several species of plants host the caterpillars, most notably spicebush (Lindera benzoin). Adults feed on quite a few different plant species, including some exotics; among the native species are milkweeds, dogbanes, and thistles.

another dorsal view

I’m totally kicking myself for not hopping the fence that was in my way to get better pictures. I’ve checked my spicebushes several times each day since then, but haven’t seen another butterfly on them.



giant swallowtail


Here’s a giant swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes) that I photographed in the eastern panhandle of West Virginia a few years ago. I’ve never seen one of these around my house; they are found in most of Maryland, but are fairly rare.


pipevine swallowtail

I believe this last one to be a pipevine swallowtail (Battus philenor). The plants it’s on are Aristolochia fimbriata, white-veined Dutchman’s pipe, a South American species that’s growing in the Enid A. Haupt Garden next to the Freer Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. Aristolochia species are hosts for the pipevine swallowtail, and so the gardeners in the Haupt and the nearby Mary Livingston Ripley Garden have been growing them for several years now, in order to attract the butterflies. Smithsonian Gardens has some wonderful spaces around the Mall, but I’m digressing.

UPDATE 8/22/18: The second butterfly is NOT a spicebush swallowtail. I failed to see something obvious. Pictured is the almost-identical red-spotted purple (Limenitis arthemis).

I checked many resources for help understanding butterfly identification; particularly useful sites included

Who’s Eating My Dill Weed?

I’m out hunting for wildflowers so often my poor garden is neglected.  This year I let about a dozen or more volunteer dill plants grow wherever they came up. They’re a mess now, some still flowering, most gone to seed and looking weedy. I was pulling them out and cutting them back and generally tidying up when I saw this caterpillar…


…and immediately put down the pruners and went inside to fetch the camera. (That’s a serrano pepper behind the dill, by the way.)

There were several, actually, so I stopped pulling the plants and left the insects where they were – there’s plenty of dill to spare, and these caterpillars will soon pupate to later emerge as black swallowtail butterflies.

Black swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) caterpillars feed on plants in the Apiaceae, mostly on garden plants brought by European colonists: dill, parsley, wild carrots, and fennel.



a late flowering dill plant in my garden, August 31


Learning that, I immediately wondered what they ate before the invasion.  I wasn’t the only one asking that question, for the answers were right there on the internet.  Among other things they love golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea).



golden Alexanders on Billy Goat B trail, April 29


I love golden Alexanders, too, and bought one from a native plant nursery last spring. Darned expensive little thing. It’s coming along quite nicely, but there isn’t enough green to spare to feed a voracious late instar caterpillar.  I don’t know what I’ll do if I find one on the plant. Probably pick it off and move it over to the dill.  Hopefully that wouldn’t cause the osmeterium to come out.

Bon appetite, mes beautés!


Another Visitor to Joe-Pye

An hour or less after shooting the skipper and swallowtail (see previous post), I saw a third species of butterfly on another joe-pye weed.



This one is spicebush swallowtail (Papilio troilus). Note the eastern tiger swallowtail in the background.





dorsal view





ventral view




extreme closeup

And now, a confession: I was so focused on shooting the butterflies, I forget to take a close look at the plants.  The plants shown here and in the previous post are likely sweet joe-pye weed, Eupatorium purpureum (Asteraceae), but I don’t have a single picture showing the critical details for a definitive ID.

I think I just gave myself an assignment for later this week.

Who Loves Joe-Pye Weed?

I do, that’s who. And so do the butterflies.  Bent over examining some plant or other at ground level, I stood up to see something moving out of the corner of my eye.



Isn’t that adorable?  Pretty sure it’s a zabulon skipper (Poanes zabulon).


I was putting the camera away when another movement caught my eye.



That’s an eastern tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus).


This time I kept the camera out and kept shooting.  There was little time to fine-tune the settings (I shoot manual most of the time), but autofocus was my friend that morning.
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I was even able to get a ventral view!



Tomorrow, another butterfly visits joe-pye.