A Surprise Visitor

Spicebush Swallowtail

Spicebush Swallowtail

The earliest butterflies of the season are typically brown- or black-winged–such as the Mourning Cloak or Red Admiral–since their darker colors absorb sunlight, keeping them warm on those cool but sunny spring days. Although the Spicebush Swallowtail (Popilio troilus) is part of that dark colored group, its arrival during the last weekend of May was totally unexpected. My county doesn’t have the acidic soil necessary to support the Spicebush Swallowtail’s favorite host plants, Spicebush (Lindera bezoin) and the Sassafras tree (Sassafras albidum). She was probably blown in from a neighboring county.

Adult swallowtails feed on nectar, usually honeysuckle, clover, or butterfly weed in their northern range. Since we don’t have many of those in my neighborhood either, it was fortunate that my extremely fragrant Mt. Baker lilacs were still at peak bloom. This particular swallowtail seemed so ravenous that she was totally unperturbed as I attempted to photograph her. Unfortunately, every time I leaned over the deck with my camera, she closed her wings. Finally, I captured a shot of her through the railings, but without time to adjust the focus. The last time I hosted a Spicebush Swallowtail was twenty years ago, when one of them took a liking to my Buddleia (Butterfly Bush), so it was truly special to see one again.

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