Snakeroot Saga

Swallowtail butterflies are among the largest and most brightly colored butterflies in the US. The curved “tail” extending from the hind wing gives the butterfly its name because it looks similar to the graceful wing formation on the birds known as swallows. Most swallowtails exhibit a black and yellow color combination. One we often see in Arkansas is the tiger swallowtail butterfly with tiger-like stripes.

Pipevine swallowtail

Pipevine swallowtail butterfly

Many of our customers have been taking home the vine called Dutchman’s pipe (named for the unusual shape of the flowers) hoping to attract the pipevine swallowtail butterflies. When you see the dramatic coloring of the pipevine swallowtail you’ll see why—the dramatic combination of black with a brilliant blue on the lower wings sprinkled with rows of dots will catch your eye too.

The pipevine butterfly larvae are not especially attractive with several rows of fleshy “horns” or tubercles along the dark body. We read that the larvae have a collapsible organ behind the head which emits a musky odor that protects them from some predators.

When Jeanne discovered some of these caterpillars chewing down the small Virginia Snakeroot plants that she has been carefully tending, she could have become a predator. But Jeanne’s knowledge of the Latin names for the Virgina Snakeroot and the Dutchman’s Pipe vine alerted her to their connection. Since both plants belong to the same genus (Aristolochia), she guessed that those larvae munching on the Virginia snakeroot would be happy to munch on the more vigorous pipevine.

Pipevine swallowtail larvae

Pipevine swallowtail larvae on Dutchman’s Pipe

She proceeded to transfer nine larvae of various sizes to the Dutchman’s pipevine we are growing over an arch. We have seen how vigorous our neighbor’s pipevine has become so we’ve given it a sturdy support. Those larvae are now thriving as they nibble away on the large leaves of the pipevine. The Virginia Snakeroot is better equipped to grow also.

We’re hoping to observe the chrysalis and pupating stage of our growing larvae. Then possibly we will be around to see the collection of spectacular black and blue butterflies cruising our gardens.

Postscript: Jeanne took a look at the Virginia Snakeroots yesterday and two of them were eaten to the ground anyway. She must have missed one of the larva. We believe the plant has a good root and hopefully will come back…


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