We try to create and nurture wildlife habitat gardens here on our five-acre Sonoma County property. And the California pipevine swallowtail is one of our favorite local fauna to provide support for. Their markings are so striking–with their mystical black color and iridescent blue sheen (on the males). The caterpillars are also eye-catching: black with bright orange spikes–looking like a scary creature out of Star Wars.
Pipevine Swallowtail butterflies (Battus philanor) were unknown to me and never seen in our garden until we planted the vine that is the sole host plant for the larvae: Aristolochia californica, aka Dutchman’s Pipe. This vine was acquired many years ago, along with some other butterfly habitat plants from Louise Hallberg of Hallberg Butterfly Gardens. Louise Hallberg did impressive work with butterfly habitat and I whole-heartedly recommend reading about her life at the link above.
The Pipevine Swallowtails seem to be having a good year. They have just emerged from their winter homes and we’ve seen more than usual so far this spring. They are fun to watch but nearly impossible to photograph — holding still not being in their dharma, apparently.
Here’s a few seconds clip of one of the pipevine butterflies looking for a good spot to lay eggs on some aristolochia californica vine:
All stages of the Pipevine Swallowtail are fascinating to me and it’s a delight to discover a chrysalis on the siding of the old shed or hanging on a buddleia twig.
The butterflies flitting around right now are probably laying eggs on the pipe vine. I usually spot the tiny amber-colored eggs on the underside of the pipe vine leaves. I like to check on them to see when they hatch and I let slip a squeal when I find teensy little caterpillars!
The caterpillars are ravenous and can quickly defoliate pipe vine tendrils of all leaves. Beware: I think all parts of this plant are poisonous to all creatures except these caterpillars! In case you are confused about the leaves in the last photo: yes, those are jasmine leaves you are seeing. The caterpillars have eaten all the intertwined aristolochia leaves and left the jasmine untouched. We moved some of those caterpillars to fresh tendrils elsewhere. 🙂 Aren’t they sort of beautifully creepy? Their dramatic power suit and poisonous pipe vine diet are good protection from hungry avians. If I were a bird, I certainly wouldn’t dare to eat one!
I hope all of you are well and staying safe and are able to get out in your gardens or favorite nature spot. I always love hearing from those of you who comment!
Read more garden blog posts here (this is also a good link to click if you got this post in your email and the photos aren’t formatted properly).