A wildlife garden full of swirling butterflies is a truly beautiful sight. You can achieve this for yourself in your wildlife garden by understanding the butterfly life cycle.
You see, you need more than lots of nectar flowers, you’ve got to have the specific host plant for each type of butterfly you want to attract. Most butterflies are specialists, meaning their caterpillars are only able to eat one specific plant, or one family of plants.
The Spicebush Swallowtail is one of my favorite butterflies, with its iridescent black and blue markings and long “tails.” Its coloring resembles the poisonous Pipevine Swallowtail, which gives some protection from hungry birds seeking a tasty snack.
Spicebush Swallowtail caterpillars also have tricky defenses. The first instars resemble bird droppings, while the 4th and 5th instar have eye markings that resemble a snake’s eyes.
The Spicebush Swallowtail caterpillar spends the day tightly rolled up in a leaf to hide from birds and other predators, only coming out at night to feed.
Adults of this species can be found in deciduous woodlands and open fields, gardens, and parks. Males are constantly on patrol, seeking to mate with as many females as possible.
After mating, the female with go in search of the host plant on which to lay her eggs. Spicebush Swallowtail caterpillars primarily feed on Spicebush (Lindera benzoin), although some will also eat Sassafras.
Spicebush blooms in early spring before it gets its leaves. The soft yellow glow from blooming Spicebush in the early spring wildlife garden is a delight in itself.
Adult Spicebush butterflies feed on nectar from native flowering perennials such as Joe Pye, Jewelweed, and Coral Honeysuckle.
These butterflies are primarily an Eastern species, but have on occasion made it as far west at Colorado. They’ve also been spotted in Cuba.
Do you have Spicebush Swallowtails in your wildlife garden?
Carole Sevilla Brown lives in Philadelphia, PA, and she travels the country speaking about Ecosystem Gardening for Wildlife. Check out her new free online course Ecosystem Gardening Essentials, 15 free lessons delivered to your inbox every week.
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