Big, Egg-Bearing Spicebush Swallowtail

misssherry(Z8/9SE MS)July 31, 2013

I like to go out to my garden at noon time, because that's the time butterflies seem to lay most of their eggs. It's hot out there, but worth seeing. I saw what I thought at first glance was a black form female tiger swallowtail, with male spicebush swallowtails flirting with her! When I got closer, I could she was just a BIG female spicebush swallowtail. She nectared on the big lantana, and, while the males were flirting, she darted over to a small sassafras in the garden and laid an egg! So obviously she's already mated and isn't interested. Do female butterflies ever mate more than once? I got two pictures of her, which was hard to do, because she wouldn't quit fluttering her wings.

I'm posting it to show the 'true blue' coloring on the hindwings of a female spicebush swallowtail, because some on this forum have asked whether their SBSTs are male or female.

I wish I could have gotten pictures that show more of the blue, but it's very much like the blue on a tiger swallowtail, but there's less of it. The pale mint green lunules - Pacman shaped things on the edge of her hindwings - are diagnostic of spicebush swallowtails.

Earlier in the year, I was thinking about digging up the lantana, because it wasn't blooming. It must have known, because it's been in bloom ever since!


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SouthCountryGuy Zone 4b-5 SE BC(Zone 4b-5 SE BC Canada)

Great photos, she is very pretty. Thanks for sharing!


    Bookmark   July 31, 2013 at 2:20PM
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bandjzmom(7 NWGeorgia)

Wow! She is really really awesome looking. Lucky you and congrats! I don't know if they ever mate more than once, but I do recall reading about one species recently where the males mate the females that are not completely eclosed yet. Seems like I read that the males somehow marked the females so that other males would know that they have already been mated. Don't know if this happens in all butterfly species though. Someone here will know. :o)

    Bookmark   July 31, 2013 at 6:43PM
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misssherry(Z8/9SE MS)

This newly emerged looking male spicebush swallowtail has been nectaring in my garden most of the day. He's probably the one I released the other day. In this picture, you can see how the coloring on his hindwings spreads much further up the wing than the 'true blue' coloring on the female -


    Bookmark   August 3, 2013 at 6:09PM
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bandjzmom(7 NWGeorgia)

Yes, I do see that, and with your help, I may be successful at IDing them now! Thanks. I actually had a really small female Spicebush nectaring on a butterfly bush today. She was so very flitty and pretty small. Smallest Spicebush I have ever seen, I think. I'm going to be looking extra hard at the Spicebush now!

    Bookmark   August 3, 2013 at 6:46PM
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It depends on the species I think swallowtail mate only once. You are so lucky you have a sbst their my fav.

    Bookmark   August 12, 2013 at 9:29PM
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misssherry(Z8/9SE MS)

Speaking of spicebush swallowtails, the second chrysalis finally emerged, and she's a female! I thought she was a female even before she opened her wings, because she has a more rounded look. I predicted the male would be a male by his wing shape, also - more pointed. It's been cloudy and dreary all day, with a little rain, and she showed no inclination to leave the cage, so I left her there. I've seen this happen with female spicebush swallowtails before, they don't want to leave. Hopefully, there will be some sunshine tomorrow and she'll want to leave - if not, I'll have to put her on my finger and take her to the garden to some flowers.

One of the four spicebush cats purged and is pupating now - time marches on!


    Bookmark   August 12, 2013 at 9:40PM
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bernergrrl(z5 IL)

SO beautiful! I really need to get these blue/black butterflies down.

    Bookmark   August 15, 2013 at 8:45PM
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bernergrrl(z5 IL)

Sherry, One year your wrote up a succinct post about how to quickly differentiate between Spicebush, BST, Dark form EST, and Pipevines.

Could I possibly impose on you and ask you to write that again? I promise I will keep it. I bet others would love it too.


    Bookmark   August 15, 2013 at 8:46PM
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misssherry(Z8/9SE MS)

Okay, BG - here goes -

Black swallowtail are small, for a swallowtail, that is. The key to identifying them is the round red area at the base of the hindwing with a black dot inside it - it looks something like a red eye. Here's a female black swallowtail. Females have lots of blue on the lower parts of their hindwing, with almost zero yellow.

Males have a lot of yellow and very little blue on their hindwings -

Pipevine swallowtails, my favorite butterfly, have been in short supply this year. I've only seen two of them, and I've gotten no eggs. Pipevine swallowtails have an iridescent blue patch on the underside of their hindwings, with a circle of iridescent orange spots within it - males and females both have this feature. Males have iridescent blue bodies -

Males have a lot of iridescent blue on the top of their hindwings -

Female pipevine swallowtails are mostly black on their topside, with with just a little blue there. They have conspicuous white spots on the outer edge of their forewings -

Here's another picture of a male nectaring on a mimosa bloom -

It's very hard to get good pictures of spicebush swallowtails, because they constantly flutter their wings. Spicebush swallowtails are big, but not real big, like tiger, giant and palamedes swallowtails. Their most distinguishing feature is the mint green lunules on the edges of their hindwings. These lunules always remind me of a character on the old Pacman games, maybe the things Pacman ate? Their undersides look very similar to black swallowtails, but they don't have the 'bloodshot eye' feature that's visible on the underside of black swalIowtails, and they DO have a long blue area there. Here's a picture of the underside of a spicebush swallowtail -

Female spicebush swallowtails have what I call 'true blue' coloring on their hindwings, topside. This blue doesn't cover much area, doesn't go very high up -

I could do a whole thread on male spicebush swallowtails! Most are sort of an ?ice blue when they first emerge, then fade to a sort of gray green in their old age. But some are practically green from the start, some are blue green, some are blue gray, and some are gray. Their coloring covers a much larger area of their hindwings than does the coloring on the females' hindwings. Here's a picture of a male I took one sunny day, and, for whatever reason, it looked iridescent, even though they don't really look that way. I just had to post it, though -

Black female tiger swallowtails are HUGE - any time you see a black swallowtail that looks strikingly big, it's undoubtedly a black female tiger. They have extensive blue on their hindwings, like the yellow form. The features that positively identify them are their solid black bodies, and the tiger stripe on their underside -

And here's a picture showing the extensive blue, topside -


    Bookmark   August 16, 2013 at 4:10PM
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misssherry(Z8/9SE MS)

BG, I don't know if you saw these pictures I posted. Here's another one that better shows the tall blue marking on the underside of spicebush swallowtails. I took this one the other day -

I found 4 more eggs, 3 have hatched and the most recent cats have all pupated. Spicebush swallowtails are doing well.....knock on wood, salt over my shoulder!


    Bookmark   August 19, 2013 at 1:10PM
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Hello Sherry,

I'm new to this forum (I'm on others) but I have to say this is a great thread that I've cut and saved. I recently started to take pics of butterflies and am learning about the different varieties. It is so fascinating! Thanks for the information.


    Bookmark   August 19, 2013 at 9:55PM
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Thanks so much for the education, Sherry. It helps. The one I find most difficult is the Palamedes. Sometimes they are large and look a bit like Giants and sometimes they are small and look like Polydamas. I can usually identify them, but I need to get up close.

Very few Pipevines here this year also. I did see one yesterday. Last year at this time I had a bunch. Hopefully they will start multiplying. I have aristolochia popping up all over the place.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2013 at 7:44AM
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misssherry(Z8/9SE MS)

Nerry, 'glad you can use this post!

Tom, the quickest way to ID palamedes swallowtails is by the yellow or orange 'tiger stripe' on the underside of their body. They also have red antennae -


    Bookmark   August 20, 2013 at 11:36AM
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monkeybelle(7A NJ (Camden County))

Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful! And thanks for the ID info. I love the Spicebushes, and have seen so few this year. Last year I had many, with just a few tigers, and this year its the other way around. Hoping next year is better :)


    Bookmark   August 20, 2013 at 1:43PM
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Truly magnificent!!
Seeing more Tigers lately. Got a late BST ELF.
Here's hoping my tiny Tulip Tree survives the Winter...

    Bookmark   August 22, 2013 at 8:06PM
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