Have you ever had a conversation about something you've never seen or something you haven't seen in awhile, and then not too long after - you see that thing? That happened to me this week.
I was chatting with some visitors from Miami who thought it pretty neat that the Pfeffer-Beach Butterfly House features only native butterflies. These visitors were dazzled by the pipevine swallowtail (Battus philenor), a butterfly that is far more common in our House than in the wild around here. This butterfly is considered a stray in south Florida; its typical range is northern and central Florida. The Miami visitors, who were pretty serious butterfly enthusiasts, remarked that they would never see a pipevine swallowtail around their homes, and I shared that I had only ever seen one in the wild - and it was not this far south. We parted ways, and I went about my business in the Smith Children's Garden.
Not more than 15 minutes later, a furiously-flying large black butterfly caught my eye in the Repp Hardwood Hammock section of the Wild Florida Loop Trail. I stopped and watched this butterfly fly loops in a precise route from the edge of the trail, to the sweet almond on the Palm Walk, then a few yards toward the Visitor Center, and then back to the trail's edge. The butterfly would disrupt its route to chase off intruders from its "territory," including a monarch butterfly, zebra butterfly, polydamas swallowtail butterfly, possibly another pipevine swallowtail, and most remarkably, a small grackle. As it flew, I caught glimpses of metallic blue on its hindwings - the distinguishing field mark of pipevine swallowtails.
I had just been talking about how Naples is the extreme-extreme end of its range and I know that there are no vouchered specimens of its preferred host plant snakeroot (Aristolochia serpentaria) in Collier County - yet, here it was! It definitely was not an escapee from our butterfly house; for one, the two sets of doors on the butterfly house do an excellent job of keeping the butterflies where they are supposed to be. For another, this butterfly was much larger than those we typically have in the house and the butterfly appeared to be newly-emerged. When the butterfly finally came to rest on the edge of the trail - first on the beautyberry, then the Simpson stopper, and finally on the cocoplum - I was able to get a few photos to submit to Butterflies and Moths of North America (BAMONA) for verification. BAMONA collects data from scientists and citizen scientists for distribution research; currently, there are no verified sightings of this butterfly in Collier County.
It will be a little while before I hear back from BAMONA. In the meantime, if you're in the Repp Hardwood Hammock in the Smith Children's Garden and a large black butterfly flies by, stop and watch - it might just be a pipevine swallowtail patrolling its tiny empire.