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Monday, June 27, 2011

In Defense

Young Turkey Vultures may be cute, but unless you have had an olfactory operation their sordid stench will keep you, and other potential predators, a safe distance away. Here is another “youngster” that employs a different defense mechanism.
Granted, you might want to think twice about eating something with colorful warts and spiny protrusions, but if you get past the looks, the taste will be repulsive. This Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillar is feasting on Dutchman’s Pipe (Aristolochia).

The plant produces toxic alkaloids that the caterpillar sequesters. These persist in the body and wings of the adult butterfly and even in the eggs. One taste is sufficient to deter predators, namely birds and wasps, from initiating any further attacks. Other swallowtails (such as Spicebush and Black in our area) have similarly dark plumage and gain some order of predator protection from their mimicry of the distasteful Pipevine.

Adult Pipevine Swallowtails are beautiful, large butterflies with flashy, iridescent, metallic blue on the hindwings. They rarely sit still for long and even flutter their wings when nectaring.

Females lay eggs in groups. By the end of the season, the gregarious and voracious larvae can do significant damage to a plant. Visit Chanticleer now to find the caterpillars and again in a few weeks to see the gorgeous butterflies.

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