Pipevine Swallowtail Butterflies

Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly | Battus philenor hirsuta
Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly on buddleia blossom
Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly on buddleia blossom — a common butterfly nectar plant

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 caterpillars eating aristolochia vine aka Dutchman's Pipe vine
Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillars eating aristolochia vine aka Dutchman’s Pipe vine

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!

Pipevine Swallowtailon on cherry blossom
Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly | Battus philenor — a beautiful large black butterfly.

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9 thoughts on “Pipevine Swallowtail Butterflies

  1. Happy Easter to you and thanks for sharing. We grow milkweed for the monarchs, and get a few other visitors too, here in Oceanside S. Cal, Love your blog!

    1. Thx Derek! Glad you like the blog. Wonderful that you get monarchs there. They are rare in our exact location. I’ve tried growing milkweed many times and not sure what I’m doing wrong, but I’ve been very unlucky with it.

  2. What a beautiful butterfly with striking colouring. I haven’t seen it in Europe. I find it fascinating how individual types of butterfly chose their own individual host plants for their larvae to feed off, co-evolution in action, but it seems so precarious too. A very interesting and informative post, thank you.

    1. Yes, it does indeed seem precarious for this butterfly to have only one host plant for it’s caterpillar to eat! Yes, so amazing to consider the evolution involved. Thanks so much for your comment! Glad you liked the post. I really enjoy your blog!

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