Palamedes Swallowtail Butterfly
Swallowtail. Palamedes Swallowtail Butterfly on Nuttall's Thistle (Cirsium nuttallii). La Chua Trail, Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, Florida. 2012.
Another big butterfly! As summer progresses I'm seeing more and more of the big swallowtails. They seem to have slowed down a bit in the heat, which has given me a chance to snap pictures. I took this and the one of the Giant Swallowtail on the same day. The Prairie was so full of insect life.
The Palamedes Swallowtail is very common in Florida, but I won't be surprised if that changes. Their host plants (the food for the caterpillars) are in the Bay family and many of the Bays along the Atlantic Coast have died because of a disease called Laurel Wilt. It's spreading south and west now. The disease is spread by the Ambrosia Beetle, which traveled from Asia, probably in shipping containers. It was aided in its spread through state parks in bundles of firewood! The beetles themselves don't kill the trees, but when they bore into the tissue of the tree, they introduce a fungus and this does the job. This disease kills the Red Bay and other plants in the bay laurel family, which includes the avocado. The Avocado Industry in Miami is quite concerned. The disease is devastating. There's not much that can be done. By the time the trees are dying, the beetles have already left to feed on another tree. And so, the host plant for the Palamedes Swallowtail Butterfly is in peril.