May 11, 2016

The Black Swallowtail Butterfly Story

A couple of weeks ago I happened to notice a large Black Swallowtail caterpillar munching away on the dill in our garden.


I was happy to know that at least one caterpillar had made it to its final instar. We had seen many more in their earlier stages and then they were gone. We suspected they were killed by the wasps that were hanging out in the garden.

If there was one survivor, there might be more, so I searched and found another fully grown caterpillar in the fennel. I made a mental note to come back the next day to check for chrysalises.


It was probably more like a couple of days when I remembered to go look. First I searched around the dill, but couldn't find the caterpillar or a chrysalis. But in the fennel, right in the spot where I had last seen the caterpillar, was a beautiful green chrysalis.


It was well hidden—buried in the fennel fronds and perfectly colored for camouflage. I might not have noticed it if I hadn't been looking for it. In the photo above, I lifted the stem it was attached to so I could see the underside. Notice the way it is attached with two stands of thread at the top.

I began to check it daily, watching for signs of color change, hoping to catch it when the butterfly would emerge. John was the one that noticed it looked a little darker on Saturday. Then on Sunday afternoon, he called me to come quickly and to bring the camera.


There he was, a fresh-from-the-chrysalis Black Swallowtail butterfly. You can see how deep in the fennel he was, his empty chrysalis shell beneath him.


I pinched away some of the fennel fronds for a better look. The large size of the yellow band of spots indicates that this butterfly is a male. If it had been a female, I could hope to see it again laying eggs in our garden.

In no time at all this handsome butterfly was ready to go. He flew up and out of the fennel, like he had been flying all his life, and fluttered over the fence. I suppose he's off to find a lady butterfly to keep this cycle of egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly going.

I wish him well.

10 comments:

  1. You take the most amzing photos of butterflies and other creatures. I hope you spot more caterpillars in your garden.

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    1. Thank you, Nancy. Exploring God's creation is one of my joys—there are so many amazing things to see and to learn about.

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  2. This process never ceases to amaze me. ONLY GOD! What a fantastic capture, Tracy!

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  3. I love to observe the butterfly cycle from start to finish and you captured it well. Weirdly, I've seen Eastern Black Swallowtails this year, but none have laid eggs and there are no caterpillars. Hmmm. Well, I enjoyed seeing yours.

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    1. That IS weird. Maybe they were all males??? We haven't had any cats on the fennel in our other garden in Matagorda, but I haven't seen any swallowtails hanging around either. It's probably just as well, because our fennel needs time to grow big enough to support a hatch of caterpillars anyway.

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  4. Tracy what a special experience to see this, he is a beautiful fellow, thank you for sharing, Frances

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    1. I almost missed seeing this beauty, Frances. Many thanks goes to my husband for checking on him at just the right time.

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Thank you for reading and taking time to comment. I am encouraged by your kind words!