Butterflies of the Adirondack Mountains:
Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes)
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The Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) is a relatively large butterfly that may be seen in the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York during late summer. It is also known as the Eastern Black Swallowtail, the American Swallowtail, and the Parsnip Swallowtail.   It is a member of the family Papilionidae (Swallowtails), named for the taillike projections on their hind wings, which resemble the tails of swallows.   The Black Swallowtail is the state butterfly of Oklahoma.  The species name -- polyxenes -- is named after Polyxena, a character in the Homeric myth Iliad. 
The upper surface of the wings of the Black Swallowtail are black with a row of submarginal cream-yellow spots.  The Black Swallowtail has distinct orange eye-spots with a black spot in the center on the hind wings close to the tail. Seen from above, the female has a row of yellow spots and an iridescent blue band, while the male has a yellow band near the edge of his wings.   The abdomen has a longitudinal row of yellow spots. The average wing span is 3.2 inches. 
At low temperatures, Black Swallowtails perch close to the ground with their wings spread. At higher temperatures, they perch higher and fly more frequently. Courtship and mating occur from midday to late afternoon.
The eggs are yellow.  The mature caterpillar is up to 2 inches long, sporting white to green with black bands dotted with orange or yellow spots on each segment.   The larva of this insect feeds on many plants in the parsley family, including Queen Anne's Lace, carrot celery, and dill.    The adult feeds on nectar from flowers such as red clover, milkweed, and thistles.   The adults flutter their wings while taking nectar, possibly for balance.   Black Swallowtails lives from six to fourteen days. 
From an ecological standpoint, the Black Swallowtail is a generalist.  This butterfly occurs in most areas of the eastern US from sea level to the mountains.   Its habitats include gardens, fields, suburbs, marshes, damp meadows, and roadsides.    It is seldom seen in forest interiors.  It has adapted well to suburban and urban environments.
Black Swallowtails reportedly have two or three broad, overlapping broods, from April to October in the North.  The flight period of the Black Swallowtail in the New York City area of New York State is from mid-April to late September, but they are most commonly seen in that area in late May and mid-July.  The Black Swallowtail's flight period in the Adirondack Mountains has not been documented. However, they have been observed within the Adirondack Park as early as June.  During the summer of 2012, the Black Swallowtail was seen in the Paul Smiths VIC Native Species Butterfly House in early August and early September.
- Susan Grimm Hanley. Interpretive Naturalist, Paul Smith's College Native Species Butterfly House. Species Logbooks.
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