The Black Swallowtail has been pretty common in the garden this year. It is not yet determined by data that an increase in this species officially occurred, but things seem to point in that direction. Read on and see the name they put to this event, as it was noticed in the Red Admiral. But first a few interesting facts on the Black Swallowtail.
Papilio polyxenes asterius is a mimic of another butterfly which helps in it being less likely to be dinner for other insects and birds. I don’t think it looks much like the Pipevine Swallowtail, but maybe birds get somewhat confused. Do you remember my post on the Viceroy and Monarch, Happy Monday, Which is Which?
Like the Viceroy, the Black Swallowtail presents like a Pipevine Swallowtail which is a bad tasting insect, similar to the Monarch. The Pipevine Swallowtail is a metallic blue/black butterfly which does not have the yellow and blue markings of the Black.
The host plant of the Black Swallowtail includes…
members of the parsley family, including, dill, carrot, fennel, parsley, and Queen Anne’s Lace. The host plants provide bad tasting toxins for the caterpillars to ingest the oil.
The Black Swallowtail is easy to attract and raise by planting dill or fennel in the garden. Their caterpillar changes appearance each time it molts. In the last few stages, it is white and green, with black bands of yellow or orange spots.
The caterpillar of swallowtail butterflies have an interesting Y shaped organ resembling a snakes forked tongue, the orange osmeterium, located behind their head.
When it is disturbed, it inverts and releases a foul-smelling odor that wards off predators.
The adults prefer nectar from red clover, milkweed and thistle, but you can see, they feed in city gardens on different plants too.
They are found in most of the eastern U.S., north into Quebec, west into Saskatchewan and California, and south toward northern South America. They have a pretty wide range.
The garden was filled with butterflies this year. It was banner year for butterflies, with Spring weather coming so early, they likely spawned more generations of some butterflies in northern climes, even unprecedented third generations. We will see what happens next year since we had such a mild winter and experienced a greater supply of butterflies this summer. Additionally, the heat and dry summer were also a contributor to an increased butterfly population. Being hot earlier, let the caterpillars progress through their development much faster, and even a little safer. Dry weather allows for more foraging for the adults.
The first butterfly to appear in large numbers in our area was the Red Admiral, with Western New York and Southern Ontario having experienced what is known as an irruption of Red Admiral butterflies. Above, is a Red Admiral on my lilac on May 3rd.. I will do a post on this butterfly a little later with findings from Cornell Cooperative Extension on the irruption.
An irruption is defined as a sudden, massive increase in population. We do not see such high numbers of this butterfly normally. This year they were literally everywhere. But, a slight increase could also be fueled by more people planting the right plants to attract butterflies to their gardens, which helps when butterflies find places to refuel for longer journeys. More studies need to be done on climate shift, butterfly migration and increase, to take into account things like gardeners planting practice.
I hope you caught the post Photographing a Hummingbirds in Flight – Useful Tips.
The butterfly in flight above, was shot at f8, 1/800 sec. ISO 640, so you see it is not necessary to have the ISO as high as I did photographing hummingbirds. The hummingbirds were shot later in the day in lower light conditions which did require some consideration for getting a good exposure.
There is no really useful tips that I have stumbled upon shooting butterflies in flight unfortunately, except maybe shooting them against a neutral background or against the sky. This allows the camera to focus more easily on such an erratically moving subject. One thing that does help though, is shooting them early morning when they are inactive and sluggish. All that were shot here were photographed mid day and very awake. I have had Monarchs spend the night on my garden flowers, but not a Swallowtail.
They are much more unpredictable in flight than even hummingbirds. I have photographed butterflies flying a number of times, but it is very difficult to zoom in on them and pan with their movement. I kinda go with pot luck, but am getting better keeping them in the frame. I still would suggest pulling frame shots from video. Video cameras have a much higher frame per second than does the dSLR.
Just an observation which is not based on any empirical data, there has been an increase in hummingbirds in the garden this year as well.
I will have other butterflies featured that visited the garden this year in an upcoming post. A few are not seen very often.
I am in and out until after the holiday, so I hope you enjoy the posts that I made to upload in my absence. I very much appreciate you visiting GWGT.