Pipevine Swallowtail

Battus philenor

Copyright 2001, Troy Bartlett (http://troyb.com/photo/index.htm)

The Pipevine Swallowtail can be a difficult butterfly to identify, because there are several other butterflies with the same size and colors.

Pipevine Swallowtails can have a wingspan up to 3 1/2 inches. They are black with bluish-green metallic color on the hind wings. Females have a row of yellowish-white dots, males do not. When a Pipevine Swallowtail folds its wings while it's resting, you will see a curved row of bright orange dots underneath its wings.

Pipevine Swallowtails are found in fields, meadows, gardens, parks, open woods, roadsides, and streamsides.

These butterflies fly from April until early Fall.

Copyright 2002, Will Cook

Randy Emmitt, Copyright 2001

Male Pipevine Swallowtail

Randy Emmitt, Copyright 2001

Female Pipevine Swallowtail

During breeding season, the male Pipevine Swallowtail patrols a territory, waiting for a female to arrive.

After mating, the female lays several eggs on the underside of a leaf. Eggs are rust-colored. Pipevine Swallowtails only lay their eggs on host plants which their larvae will be able to eat. Host plants include plants from the Pipevine Family, such as Dutchman's Pipe and Virginia Snakeroot. Larvae will not eat any other types of plants.

Dale Clark

Bill Howell

Butterfly larvae, called caterpillars, are small and stick together when they are first born. They eat the leaves of their host plant and grow quickly. Plants in the Pipevine Family have chemicals in them which are poisonous to most animals. Caterpillars are able to eat them without being harmed. In fact, the chemicals stay inside the caterpillars and make them poisonous to most predators.

Caterpillars are not poisonous when they are young, but after they have eaten a lot of pipevine and have grown, they are poisonous and move off to live on their own.

When caterpillars are full grown, they are black with red spines. Caterpillars can be over two inches long.

Now the caterpillar is looking for a place to pupate (resting stage). They never pupate on their host plant, but crawl a ways away.

The pupa stage of the butterfly, called a chrysalis, is brown or light green, depending on the surface they attach to. Chrysalids have an interesting shape with curves, angles, and horns.

If a larva pupates early in Summer, it emerges as a butterfly in a few weeks and mates. If it pupates in late Summer or Fall, it stays in its chrysalis through Winter, and emerges next Spring.

Robert Parks

Copyright 2002, Will Cook

As adults, Pipevine Swallowtails' food is flower nectar. Some of the flowers they visit include honeysuckles, milkweeds, and thistles. Besides getting food, they help the plants by pollinating them.

Like other butterflies, Pipevine Swallowtails get moisture and nutrients from "puddling." Puddling is when many butterflies are seen at one spot, such as a shallow puddle, mud, or animal poop. The picture to the left shows Pipevine Swallowtails on horse poop.

Usually, caterpillars do not harm their host plants too badly; but sometimes, if there are a lot of caterpillars, they can defoliate (eat all of its leaves) and kill it.

Pipevine Swallowtails are a big help to other butterfly species without even trying. Because adult butterflies are poisonous to predators from all the pipevine they eat as caterpillars, most birds avoid them. Other butterfly species have developed mimicry. Mimicry is when one animal copies the look of another, and gains protection. Some species that mimic Pipevine Swallowtails include Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (females), Eastern Black Swallowtail, Spicebush Swallowtail, and Red-spotted Purple. None of these species are poisonous, but birds avoid them because they have the same color and size as Pipevine Swallowtails.

Copyright 2002, Will Cook

Relationships in Nature:


Virginia Snakeroot

Bald-faced Hornet

Virginia Snakeroot

Virginia Snakeroot H

Common Milkweed

Poison Ivy

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Mi

Bull Thistle

Virginia Creeper

Eastern Black Swallowtail Mi

Japanese Honeysuckle

Wild Strawberry

Spicebush Swallowtail Mi

Butterfly Bush

Red Clover

Red-spotted Purple Mi


Common Milkweed Po


Bull Thistle Po

Bracken Fern

Japanese Honeysuckle Po

Relationship to Humans:

Pipevine Swallowtails are beautiful animals that are a treat to see. Some people grow pipevines in their yards just to attract these butterflies. They also help pollinate beautiful flowers.



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