From below, adults have a single row of round red-orange spots on an iridescent blue hindwing patch. From above, the forewings are solid black or may have a short row of small, cream-colored spots that does not extend to the wingtip. Males have a brighter blue iridescent patch on the dorsal hindwing than females.
Larvae are dark reddish-purple with fleshy tubercles, with those of the head ad last abdominal segments longer.
Wingspan: 2¾–4 inches. Spring specimens are smaller than those of later generations.
Habitat and conservation:
Look for this swallowtail in open areas and wooded edges. The shimmering blue-green color and bright orange spots are a warning to predators that this species contains acrid body juices. Other butterflies have developed colors that mimic pipevine swallowtails and gain protection by association. These include red-spotted purples, dark female eastern tiger swallowtails, female black, Ozark and spicebush swallowtails and female Diana fritillaries.
Larvae feed on Virginia snakeroot, Dutchman’s pipe and other members of the genus Aristolochia (the pipevines). The adults visit a wide variety of flowers and sometimes gather in numbers at moist places.
Distribution in Missouri:
Statewide, but most common in the Ozarks.
Adults fly from late April into October. There are several broods in Missouri. Females lay small groups of red eggs, placing more eggs on larger plants. Distasteful chemicals eaten by caterpillars are retained in other life stages. Birds and many other predators learn not to eat this species.
One of the major subfields of biology studies the diversity of life on earth, and the reasons why such diversity exists. Unraveling the relationships between the toxic pipevine swallowtail, the several lookalike “mimic” species and their predators is one example of this subdivision of biology.
Although many predators avoid this species, the caterpillars are preyed upon by ladybug larvae. The caterpillars can defend themselves by biting the ladybugs; this strategy is most successful when the caterpillar is larger than the attacking ladybug larvae!