Black Swallowtail Increasing in 2012?

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.

About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at:
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21 Responses to Black Swallowtail Increasing in 2012?

  1. Andrea says:

    I know most swallowtails don’t stop fluttering their forewings even when sipping nectar. I had a great difficulty shooting them, can’t really freeze those movements. I stay there the whole day just trying to pin our rare red swallowtail, but can’t get a nice one. Maybe my lens is so slow!

  2. I have seen both the Dark phase and Yellow Swallowtails this summer. Since we have been for just a couple summers, I can’t relate past butterfly counts…. not sure if it is different from other years.
    I have a multi burst feature on my camera. Sometimes when I am trying to get the butterflies and keep getting closed wings, I switch to multi-burst…helps get at least one good picture.
    sorry you have had trouble with commenting on my blog. Not sure the reason.

  3. Here in Chicago butterflies were pretty scarce this summer. Occasional swallowtails and monarchs, a few red admirals and painted ladies … I’ve planted many host plants for black swallowtails and have been disappointed to find not a single caterpillar. Maybe I’ll have better luck next year.

  4. Every year I have more and more butterflies in my garden. I chalked it up to having added the host plants and nectar plants to my garden along with organic gardening practices but maybe there is more to it than that. I have had 6 crops of swallowtail caterpillars on my parsley and fennel since spring. Great shot of the flying butterfly!

  5. I noticed a lot of Red Admiral butterflies this spring and the hummingbirds are quite active now in my southeast Michigan garden.

  6. Barbie says:

    What amazing photos you have of this lovely butterfly. I don’t think we get them here….

  7. I have finally gotten to the internet so can comment. Cliff Island is loaded with butterflies of all sorts this summer especially right now. A joe pye weed in Roger’s garden had about 20 painted ladies yesterday.

  8. Our local butterflies seem to be down in population this year. Last year they were everywhere. Not quite sure why though. Our hummers are up though, and we’ve been seeing a lot more of another species than we usually do. I really need to work on my butterfly photographing skills…they’re difficult to chase here without sliding down a hill!

  9. HolleyGarden says:

    I think we’ve had more black swallowtails this year, too. Even my husband mentioned it the other day! I think your idea of an updated migration study is a good one. I hope we gardeners are truly affecting and helping out these little creatures.

  10. Ogee says:

    What a beauty!

  11. stone says:

    Wait uh minit, one of them swallertails looked funny!

    Yesterday I had a dark and a regular tiger doing mating ritual, but I don’t think I got any decent shots of that activity, and they seemed to go on & on.

    I seem to have a lot of different similar to black swallowtails, like spicebush swallowtails, and Red-spotted purple butterflies, and others that I didn’t even notice were different flutterbys until I got to visiting other butterfly photographers and re-examining my pictures.

  12. Indie says:

    Well that explains why I’ve been seeing Red Admirals this year (whereas last year I don’t think I saw any). I planted fennel and parsley this year to attract the Black Swallowtails, and sure enough, we had dozens of caterpillars. Sadly the birds got most of them. We now have some in my daughter’s butterfly habitat cage. The kids have been fascinated with them. Of course my 3-year-old wanted to pet them, so we’ve seen that orange osmeterium thing in action!

  13. Beautiful, Donna! I had a lot of butterflies in my garden in early spring, and I regret that I didn’t photograph them. I need to make more time to capture the little miracles. Your photos are incredible!

  14. Marguerite says:

    I’ve read in several places now about high butterfly numbers but oddly this year I saw almost no butterflies in my garden despite the usual plantings of carrots, dill and parsley. On the plus side the hummingbirds seem to have found me and put on a quite a show this year.

  15. Helene says:

    Beautiful photos! You are so fortunate to see an increase in butterflies, here in UK we have had a decline this year, probably because of the terrible weather we have had. I can’t say I have seen one single butterfly this summer in my garden, only moths! I thoroughly enjoyed your post.

  16. Wonderful post full of info and great shots…I had an increase as well and did plant dill for them…2 caterpillars were found on the dill and who knows if later swallowtails were these same caterpillars…interesting to see if there was a real increase

  17. The third photo looks like a beautiful abstract painting.

  18. Pergola says:

    Butterflies are beautiful and your photos of them in this post are stunning. I found this post quite informative especially on the plants that attract particular butterflies.

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  20. las artes says:

    You’d think that some of these photos were taken during the summer months, but it was yesterday, certain things are still green in the autumn. I’ve been chasing butterflies all summer long, finally caught up with one.

  21. Pingback: One Lovely Caterpillar. « the unbearable lightness of being me.

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