The winner of today’s photography challenge is the state butterfly: the black swallowtail butterfly.  These butterflies are found throughout most of the eastern United States, parts of Canada, and south through Mexico and Central America. It is also the state butterfly for New Jersey and Oklahoma (where it can be seen from March through October).

Black Swallowtail Butterfly on wildflowers

On my walk this morning, I was fortunate to see the black swallowtail butterfly on some of the wildflowers along the shore. I wasn’t able to get super close to the butterfly—I didn’t want to scare it off, so pictures don’t do full justice to the beautiful butterfly.

I’m not certain whether I managed to get several pictures of a male or female black swallowtail. The distinguishable area is towards the bottom of the wings–the females have more blue towards the bottom of their wings. Also the males have larger yellow spots than the females do, but since I could’t get closer to it (I didn’t want to scare it off), I can’t say for certainty which sex it is.

Black swallowtail

These are rather large butterflies, as their wingspan can be between three and a quarter and four and quarter inches (so somewhere between eight and eleven centimeters). Females will lay eggs on the leaves and flowers of host plants (such as carrot, celery, dill to name a few), which then serve as food to the caterpillars. The young hibernate as a chrysalis (pupa) before emerging as an adult.

Black swallowtail

The adults feed on nectar from flowers, which include milkweed, thistles, and red clover (to name a few). One goal for this summer is going to try to identify this flowering plant. The black swallowtails aren’t the first butterflies I’ve seen on it this summer.