Caterpillar season II

The pipevine swallowtails fly sometime in april; and at times can be abundant locally. They're seen along the watercourses and on those hillsides where dutchman's pipe grows. Sadly, neither this very striking butterfly or this unusual flower are known to many citizens of Sonoma County. The butterfly because it's single flight here is so early in spring(and sometimes curtailed in cold years); the flower because the vine is so shy in retiring into the surrounding vegitation, and it's small flowers coming out in february.
The vine is quite lovely, with the emerald green, slightly fuzzy, heartshaped leaves you can see in my picture of a larval pipevine. If you trellis it in dappled sunlight, it eventually gets thick; but it is never going to be a garden favorite. Still, in a shady corner not otherwise used, it is quite attractive. the point here is that it is another of those plants which had a powerful attraction for the adults. Indeed, a local--and unusually thoughtful--exponent of 'butterfly gardening' built her little oasis around this butterfly and it's host. You will be frustrated trying to transplant any native vine, but can locate it in many nurseries catering to native plant enthusiasts. You also need patience, as it won't grow much the first two years
Adult pipevines are arguably our most tropical-appearing butterflies. the males are glossy black with a small amount of blue or green iridescence. The females, alas are less jet and don't shine at all; but are still indubitably large black swallowtails. The locals are small as first flights are; doubtless these are much more impressive in their wide range in the southeast with multiple flights over a long humid summer.
The larvae are unlike almost all our swallowtails--most of which are variations on the tiger swallowtail template, with correspondingly similar larvae. Shiny jet segments with impressive orange tubercles that make you hesitate to pick them up must be a protective decoration. More to the point, like all papilionidiae, they extrude scent horns suddenly when menaced or mishandled. With the local Anise Swallowtails you get a strong whiff of licorice; and I presume these beasts shock their foes with something of the pipevines, but I'm too dull to detect it. Their chrysalids are extravagantly baroque, with touches of that golden stuff that gave rise to the name of "the little golden ones''.

Posted by icosahedron icosahedron, May 17, 2011 23:40

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