Saturday, October 18, 2014

Pipevine and Polydamas

Even a month and a half later, both pipevine and caterpillars are still going strong!

This pipevine (Aristolochia species) isn’t one of our Florida natives (we only have one that I know of), but I enjoy seeing the swallowtail butterflies fluttering around it.  Why would pipevine attract swallowtails?  It’s not the nectar, although the very odd, weirdly-but-possibly-pipe-shaped flowers seem like they would hold pools of delicious nectar or pollen.  It’s the leaves, especially the soft young leaves at the ends of the new vine tips. 
As you’ve probably guessed by now, pipevine is one of the larval foods for swallowtail butterflies, in my area attracting the Polydamas swallowtail, Battus polydamas. 
The pipevine
A series of posts (or even books) could be written about this unique species.  I’m fascinated by every part of it, from its strange blooms, to its intriguing seed pods and heat-shaped leaves.  This species grows from seed easily, and is now reseeding itself nearby (I see the tiny vines starting in several places).  The leaves are a symmetrical heart shape (cordate to botanists) with slim petioles. 
The blooms give the plant its common name of pipevine or Dutchman’s pipe, as they are thought to resemble a curved pipe stem of a Dutchman-style pipe; think of Sherlock Holmes and his ubiquitous pipe. The flowers are fleshy and curvy, the colors a gradation of pale green near the stem with intricate burgundy patterns over pale yellow or cream on the lips.  The flowers on this vine are about 3 inches by 2 inches, but variable in size, like the leaves.
Young pipevine leaf.
The seeds are spread by the open seed pods, which are shaped like parachutes complete with suspension lines!  These tiny parachutes hang upside down, waiting for the wind or a passerby to jostle the winged seeds out of their nest.  Once out, the winged seeds float to the ground, hopefully to fertile soil.
Pipevine seems to thrive on little care.  Also called calico flower and birthwort, its been used in herbal remedies for childbirth ailments, arthritis, edema, and as a disinfectant.  Pipevine contains the toxin aristolochic acid, which is what gives the swallowtail caterpillars and butterflies their survival edge, as they become both toxic and distasteful.    
Some Aristolochia species are invasive, so don’t let me encourage you to plant these everywhere!  
Wingspans of the butterflies in my yard are about 3 to 3.5 inches wide.
The Polydamas butterfly
Also called gold-rim swallowtail, the Polydamas butterfly is the only tail-less swallowtail in the eastern United States.  They are a tropical species found in peninsular Florida, the Florida Keys and the Bahamas.  Occasional strays may wander as far north as Missouri and Kentucky.  Once of our black and yellow butterflies (a tropical adaptation?), the upper surface of the wings is black with yellow bands along the margins.  The underside of the wings is black, with yellow spots on the top wing and bright orange to red spots on the bottom wing.

The black, brown, and orange caterpillars emerge from small yellow eggs and begin their gastronomical   From there on, it’s all about eating the tender young pipevine leaves until it’s time to create the chrysalis.  The chrysalis may be brown to gold or green – but I’ve noticed that the green ones turn brown right before the butterfly emerges.  I’ve been waiting to post this, as I keep hoping to catch one in action as it emerges, but they’re too quick for me!  Be sure to watch the two YouTube videos from the links at the bottom for a close-up view of the transformation from caterpillar to chrysalis and then to butterfly – very cool!
Caterpillars are brown to black in color.
adventures by consuming the egg shells.
The sketch was done in my
Aquabee Super Deluxe  spiral-bound sketchbook
9x6 in, (22.86 x 15.24 cm), 93 lb. paper,
Sakura Micron Pigma pen 01,
and Daniel Smith watercolors.

The top wings are black with golden rims.
For more information on the web:
 University of Florida, with photos of eggs, caterpillars, and host plants.  
Wikipedia on swallowtail butterflies in general.  
Biokids from University of Michigan on swallowtails in general.  Brief but concise paragraphs covers many aspects of butterfly life.  
Butterfly fun facts, photos and facts about polydamas or gold rim  and photos of the osmeterium of different swallowtails.  
Floridata. About pipevines.
Heuristron, with photos here for butterflies   and here for pipevine photos.  
YouTube video from caterpillar to chrysalis!  
YouTube video from chrysalis to butterfly!