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Spicebush Swallowtail on Eastern Purple Coneflower

Posted on Aug 3, 2016

This breathtaking sight was a recent morning surprise for me as once again the wonderful Eastern Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) brought in a special friend in the form of a Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus) butterfly. It can be somewhat difficult to identify the Spicebush Swallowtail as the Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) looks very similar. To me, in terms of general and unscientific impressions, the Spicebush Swallowtail is a duller black, flies a little stronger, and seems a little larger with broad wings.

Spicebush Swallowtail Eastern Purple Coneflower-9258

Spicebush Swallowtail Eastern Purple Coneflower-9268

One scientific way to tell the species apart if you have a view like this one while they are nectaring is to check out the underwing pattern. The median spot band on the hindwing, seen especially well in my first photo, shows one of the orange marks missing. All you see is some of the dusty blue in one place, and that is a great way to know you have a Spicebush. If you see a black eye or cell spot on the hindwing you also know you have a Black Swallowtail. It’s all in the details for these Pipevine Swallowtail mimics.

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation & Outreach Coordinator