Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Black Swallowtail

Black Swallowtails are common across much of eastern North America. Erika and I encountered this one in the Carleton College arboretum. These butterflies lay their eggs on plants related to carrots (Queen Anne’s Lace, carrot, celery, parsley and dill). Planting dill in your garden is a good way to attract the species. Females lay singe eggs on the leaves or flowers of the host plants. Upon hatching, their caterpillars feed on these same plants. Adult food includes Red Clover, milkweed, and thistles (butterfliesandmoths.org). Some confusion exists in the literature as to whether Black Swallowtails accumulate toxins from the plants that they eat (and are thus bad tasting or toxic to their predators) or if this species mimics similar appearing butterflies that are toxic to predators. Perhaps both statements are true, in which case Black Swallowtails are examples of Mullerian mimicry, wherein two or more toxic species look similar so as to lower predators’ learning curves.

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