Tom’s Garden

Growing by the Bay

Category: insects

Pipevine swallowtail butterfly

Pipevine swallowtail butterfly

Pipevine swallowtail butterfly (P5142058)

Our native California Pipevine butterfly, Battus philenor, is a handsome swallowtail notable for its deep iridescent blue color decorated with orange and white polka dots. It favors coastal scrub and inland riparian areas, but essentially is found wherever the native California pipevine plant, Aristolochia californica (also known as Dutchman’s Pipe for its strangely shaped flowers) is found. It is the sole host plant for this butterfly, which is consequently entirely dependent upon it for survival.

Among many food plants is Jupiter’s Beard, Centranthus ruber, a volunteer in our garden, shown above and at the bottom of this post. All butterflies, of course, have host plants where eggs are laid and caterpillars develop, as well as food plants that are sources of nectar during the insect’s butterfly stage.

Pipevine plant, Aristolochia californica.

Pipevine plant, Aristolochia californica.

Swallowtails that feed on Aristolochia mainly live in the tropics. This one is a northern pioneer of the species. The host plant provides the insect with toxic aristolochic acids, and the distinctive color and markings announce the toxins’ presence to potential predators, who take note and look for more palatable prey.

It is said of the pipevine plant that in the first year it sleeps, in the second year it creeps, and in the third year it leaps. In favorable conditions, the vine can climb to the top of tall trees. But is also content to crawl along the ground if need be. Our pipevine, shown above, is in its second year.

Art Shapiro has an excellent page with more information on Battus philenor. Las Pilitas is a good place to read about Aristolochiua californica and other native plants.

Pipevine swallowtail butterfly (P5142076 copy)

Monarch butterfly on native asclepias (milkweed) plant .

Monarch butterfly on native asclepias (milkweed) plant .

European Mantis

Mantis

European Mantis, <em>Mantis religiosa</em>.

European Mantis, Mantis religiosa.

This gentleman, who was lurking in the garden the other day, is a praying mantis. Specifically, he is, I think, a European Mantis, Mantis religiosa. This is an introduced species from Europe that has become naturalized over much of the U.S. Our native California mantis is much smaller.

I say “he.” This guy can be identified as a male because he has seven abdomen segments, as opposed to the female’s five, and he has stout, long antennae, as opposed to the wispy version sported by the female.

Mantises are formidable and not very discriminating predators. Gardeners argue whether they are beneficial, but it just depends. They’ll eat what they can catch. If you have a lot of nasty gnats and mosquitoes, they’ll eat those, and welcome to them. But if those are in short supply mantises don’t mind feasting on butterflies or even an occasional small hummingbird.

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Swallowtail caterpillar detail.

Western Swallowtail Butterflies

Western Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly on Jupiter's Beard flower.

Western Tiger Swallowtail butterfly on Jupiter’s Beard flower.

The Western Tiger Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio rutulus), seen here, is a native of western North America, from the Rockies (and sometimes farther east) to the Pacific and from British Columbia to Baja California. Coastal Northern California, where I live, is one of its favorite habitats. It is a large butterfly, with a wingspan of about three to four inches (females are larger than males). It can be seen flitting about from spring through fall, and occasionally even in winter.

Art Shapiro, professor of Evolution and Ecology at the University of California, Davis, says that “The Western Tiger Swallowtail is basically a species of riparian forest, where it glides majestically back and forth along the watercourse. It has expanded into older urban neighborhoods where several of its host genera are grown as shade trees, and behaves as if the street were a watercourse. In the high country and on the Sierran east slope its usual host is Aspen.”

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