From egg to adult: the pipevine swallowtail

Seasonal Naturalist, Blacklick Woods

Nine pipevine swallowtail eggs on the stem of a pipevine plant. Photo Leah Conway

Life begins for the rich black and metallic blue pipevine swallowtail as a round, orange and pumpkin-like egg roughly one-quarter the size of a pencil eraser. Females typically deposit their eggs in clusters on the stems of pipevine plants, where they’ll develop for four to 10 days. After hatching, their first act of caterpillarhood is consuming their egg casing.

Recently hatched caterpillars will remain close to one another until the need to separate for resources occurs.  |  A lone late instar caterpillar flaunts its bright orange spots to deter predators. Photos Leah Conway

As larvae, they’ll munch away for up to four weeks while trying to avoid the attention of hungry birds. Fortunately, all of the host plants for pipevine swallowtails contain some concentration of aristolochic acids, which make them toxic to predators. After growing to be about the size of your pinky finger, they’ll wander from their host plant to find a suitable site to build their chrysalis and pupate.

A pipevine swallowtail chrysalis hangs from the underside of a wooden railing.  |   A freshly emerged adult pipevine swallowtail. Photos Leah Conway

Pupation will last anywhere from 10-20 days, until the chrysalis changes in color, cracks open, and the adult butterfly emerges! It will spend several hours stretching and drying its wings, and then finally begin the final stage of its life, adulthood, which will last anywhere from six to 30 days.

Adulthood looks different for males and females – males will spend most of their time searching for females to mate with, while females will use their time to feed until mating and reproducing occurs. However, for both, their bright orange spots serve to tell predators that they don’t taste good – a trait many other butterflies mimic to avoid predation!

A recently emerged pipevine swallowtail adult spreads its wings to dry in the sun. Photo Leah Conway

If you’d like to witness any or all of this marvelous metamorphic process, consider planting Virginia snakeroot or pipevine to provide a food source for caterpillars. Additionally, a number of native flowering plants like butterfly weed (a hardy, easy to grow, native perennial that will also attract monarch caterpillars and other pollinators), wild bergamot or ironweed (more easy to grow native perennials which are sure to attract pollinators of all kinds), thistles, or non-native lantana will provide nectar for adults.

A pipevine swallowtail on lantana, which is a non-native plant but a pollinator favorite. Photo Leah Conway

3 thoughts on “From egg to adult: the pipevine swallowtail

  1. Thank you for information.
    First time I have found eggs and tiny cats on the pipe vine I have grown several years. I’m bringing some to safety to raise to caterpillar. Live in Harford County, Maryland .
    I have been growing milkweed for years and raising the monarchs from egg to butterfly.
    So fascinating. Truly a miracle seeing the growth.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *