A Swallowtail story

I got the chance to learn something about the all-too-brief lives of California Pipevine Swallowtails last Friday while hiking along the south fork of the American River at Folsom Lake. It was amazing how these beautiful butterflies were literally everywhere around me, on just about every wildflower. The California Pipevine is a rare subspecies of the Pipevine Swallowtail, found only here in Northern California, so I always feel a little bit privileged whenever I see them. But this was a close encounter that I didn’t fully understand until I got home and did some research.

Most of the butterflies actively avoided me as I passed, but this one was right in my path and was perched on a dried stem rather than a flower. Even when I walked by, she didn’t budge — leading me to wonder if she were injured or caught by a sticky bit of spider web. She didn’t seem to be in distress, so I took a few pictures. Then, over the next few minutes, something happened that I’ll admit I didn’t quite understand at the time but later seemed plain as day.

An interested visitor arrives

In doing my research, I discovered there’s a visual difference between male and female Pipevine Swallowtails; the males have an iridescent blue on the lower wing. Once I realized that, it finally occurred to me that I had witnessed what you might call an “intimate moment.”

A final embrace

And away he goes!

After the male Swallowtail was gone, I offered my finger to the female, and without hesitation she climbed up onto my hand. We shared a moment, standing there in the springtime beauty of the Pioneer Express Trail before she rose gracefully on the air and disappeared, becoming just another one of the thousands of California Pipevine Swallowtails wandering among the wildflowers on the sides of the hill above Folsom Lake.

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