This Beard Never Looked So Good

Aug 21, 2013

Aah, is there anything more beautiful than pipevine swallowtails nectaring on the rosy pink blossoms of Jupiter's Beard?

Butterfly expert Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, monitors butterfly populations throughout the Central Valley, including Gates Canyon, Vacaville, Solano County.

Gates Canyon is one of his "stomping" grounds, or "monitoring" grounds.

And that's where we saw about half-a-dozen butterflies fluttering on Jupiter's Beard (Centranthus ruber), also known as Red Valerian. The perennial is native to the Mediterranean region.

The pipevine swallowtail (Battus philenor) is what Shapiro calls "the signature riparion butterfly of our region (Northern California), occurring along streams in foothill canyons and on the Central Valley floor, essentially everywhere its only host plant, California pipevine or Dutchman's Pipe, Aristolochia californica, occurs."

"This species is warningly colored and inedible to vertebrate predators," Shapiro says on his website. "It derives its protection from the toxic aristolochic acids produced by the host, which it sequesters; females even pass these along to the eggs, which are also protected (and are brick red, laid in bunches of up to 20, and quite conspicuous).

Brick-red eggs? That must be a sight and a delight to see!

You can read more about the pipevine swallowtail on his website.

The first time we ever saw a pipevine swallowtail, it was in the clutches of a hungry praying mantis. (See photo on my Flickr site.)

So it's good to see it "whole."