Black Swallowtails Growing Up

Howdy, peeps, I write to you from a hotel in the lovely state of South Dakota. Tomorrow starts our shorebird workshop. I'll blog when I can, but most of my time will be dedicated to unlocking the id secrets of tiny shorebirds.

"You can't see me!"

Time to catch up on the swallowtail madness. Well, if you couldn't find the black swallowtail caterpillar in the last post, HellZiggy did a masterful job of pointing it out. Here's an up close view of the cat:

It's amazing that in less than two weeks it went from a tiny thing resembling finch poop to this big squishy thing. You can really see how the stripes work to hide its lardiness amongst the parsley stems.

Right before I left for Indianapolis, all of our swallowtails were forming chrysalises and Non Birding Bill had to help with the ranching as well as maintain the blog. I wanted to try and get a photo of the swallowtail chrysalis formation because they make such interesting little structures.

The first thing they do is find a place that looks like a good spot to hang for a couple of weeks, then they scatter silk all over to secure themselves in place.

After they have their rear ends secured, they somehow emit two silk strings from either side and use that to help attach to the stem or stick. They lean into it and eventually shed their skin to look like this:

This particular caterpillar decided to form its chrysalis on a milkweed stem and the green and yellow really blended well with the plant. There were times when I walked into the kitchen and couldn't see it right away. I was so fascinated by the silk strings and really wanted to try and see how those formed. I had one swallowtail cat left and kept close tabs on it. Alas, I lost it at one point when it decided to go on a walk about and went behind the radiator in the kitchen, it eventually reappeared on the table:

It made its way to a candle holder in the center of the table. Now, one of the upsides of having a camera with a great macro feature is that you get awesome detailed shots of small objects. The downsides is that you get more detail than you bargained for. The candle holder and cat is coated in a layer of dust. The cat picked up most of the dust behind the radiator the holder is an example of my contempt for house cleaning. But, ignore the dust and not the silk coming out of the black spots--must be a special gland that produces the string that will hold the cat in place. Eventually, this caterpillar shed its skin and if you read NBB's entries while I was gone, you'll know it looked like this:

Whoa! What happened? It's brown instead of green? This the massive amount of dust the caterpillar picked up in the kitchen cause it to turn such a dingy color? No! As someone pointed out in the comments, swallowtails can form their chrysalis into either green or brown--the color depends on where its made to keep it camouflaged. I had read about this, and was hoping I would get my cats to do this--one of the reasons I let them out of the Butterfly Garden and let them go where they wanted, to see if they would change color--and they did! I love it when a plan comes together.

When I came home, the chrysalises started to change color. Just like the monarch chrysalis, the swallowtail caterpillars darkened and you could make out the butterfly wings on the inside about 12 hours before they emerged. See the black and yellow through the green skin?

I put the chrysalis into the Butterfly Garden and the next morning the black swallowtail had emerged, ready to take on the world.

I got a chance to get some photos and really notice the splotches of color on the under wings--so beautiful! Something interesting about the swallowtails--when they first emerged, they smelled like moldy parsley--beauty does come with a price.

The swallowtails took their time to leave. We placed them on the ledge, they pumped their wings and eventually took to the air after about twenty minutes. I tell ya', after this, I'm gonna inspect my parsley a bit more closely from now on. I do wonder how many eggs and tiny cats Cinnamon has eaten.

We still have a few monarch caterpillars left, but I think it's time to be winding things down at the Stiteler Butterfly Ranch. Now, it's off to bed to get ready for shorebirds.