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Saturday, 15 September 2012

Raising Swallowtails - Part 2

And so on 9th Sept New Guy came to join us. At first I put him in a separate container the same size as Big Guy, but after a few days it became apparent that they were getting a bit of the old wanderlust, escaping out of their homes and one even went for a walk across the windowsill. It was time to sort out new accomodation for them.

Take note also the pooey mess in the corner of this container. Previously they had only done nice round dryish looking frass and this was the first time I'd seen this. Obviously later on I learned that this was something significant but I didn't know what it meant at the time.

Big Guy with wanderlust - 11th Sept

So out came the big plastic container which had previously been used for the sick baby hedgehog, complete with plastic mesh top which we'd used to keep the flies off the hedgehog (it had been washed!). New sticks were sorted, long enough for them to hang off when they were ready to turn into chrysalises.

At this point Little Guy was still in his original container. Big Guy and New Guy, both the same size, enjoyed a day running about their new box exploring both the sides and the top all day long.

Getting to know their new home

Exploring up the sides

Obviously we'd put the mesh on top, well clipped down!

During that day they never ate a thing or did any frass. (Do they 'do' frass, like they 'do' poo? This scientific jargon is beyond me. Perhaps they make frass? Excrete, eject, expel? Look in common language, they didn't poo!).

By the evening they appeared to have settled down and each adopted a stick of their own and just seemed to sit on the underside of it. Then when I got up on the 12th September look what I found.

Isn't nature wonderful? All settled into their own little hammocks being held up by silk. I have to assume that the watery frass and no eating after that was all a part of the process of turning into a chrysalis.

Big Guy and New Guy both looked like this

In the meantime, Little Guy was rapidly growing.

Little Guy 12th Sept

Little Guy gets measured 13th Sept

And the reason the tape measure was out? Well I have to admit that morning I came across Teeny Guy, who I just couldn't resist bringing in to join my happy flock.....

Teeny Guy joins us 13th Sept

By this time Little Guy was in a bigger container and Teeny Guy went into the smaller glass jar that was now empty. It was becoming a bit of a production line! My kitchen windowsill was rapidly disappearing. I also have a hoverfly pupa in the jam jar at the front below - it's that tiny blob on a stalk.

Teeny guy is being measured in this photo

All settled in, I then spent about 3 hours in the garden that afternoon only to come inside and find this!!

5.16pm 13th September. Suddenly one of my Guys has turned into a chrysalis!

I mean how did this happen all of a sudden? In my naivety and ignorance I had kept looking at these caterpillars looking for all the world like a sleepy caterpillar having a nap in a hammock, wondering when I'd start to see some sort of change into a chrysalis. Nobody told me it was because there would be a final moult and suddenly that caterpillar shape would change into the chrysalis above! And I missed it!!! I figured this out in about 5 seconds because I noticed this:

Discarded skin after final moult

I am so annoyed at missing the process as it would have been so amazing to witness. I've yet to see any moult let alone one into a chrysalis and I'm still wondering quite how they got out of their skin which was attached to the silk holding them up, yet still have that same silk there around the chrysalis. 

So you can be sure as I knew the other one was around the same stage of development and I guessed it would be happening soon, that I watched it like a hawk every few minutes for the next couple of hours, then checked every half an hour after that! Nothing. I thought maybe as it was late evening by then it would happen in the morning. Until we watched something on the telly for an hour then discovered the other one had transformed into a chrysalis during this time, and we'd missed that too!!! Waaaaaaah!!

Well I did get to see something. I just missed seeing Teeny Guy having a moult - I knew it was imminent as he'd spent all his first day neither eating or pooing (frassing?).

Teeny Guy just after a moult, 12.14pm 14th Sept. Note his very pale head and
the head capsule behind the flower on the right.

I knew he'd be eating the moult within the next hour so I brought him upstairs to sit on my desk whilst I was on my computer. I noticed after a while that his head darkened up to normal colouring but he stayed stuck to the side of the glass jar without moving much during this time.

Then suddenly he turned round and started to have a munch, and with a bit of jiggling around of the glass jar he was in I was able to take some photos, but couldn't quite get the right angle and obviously wasn't going to move him!

Teeny Guy munching his discarded skin


And so ends Part 2. I'm hoping Part 3 will be either me witnessing Little Guy turn into a chrysalis, or if I miss that it'll be a butterfly eclosing. If I miss that I will be furious, but at least I've got 4 chances.... but I'm having visions of me going to the supermarket and the dentist next week with boxes of caterpillars/chrysalises and a camera. :-)

To be continued.......

(Actually something rather funny happened this afternoon since I finished this final draft, so that will be Part 3, as this one is long enough) :-)


  1. Lovely post Mandy. If I might suggest, a camera recording them when you are not around ... :) or if you don't like video much, how about time lapse shots.

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  3. Thoroughly enjoying this ! So well documented, both 1 & 2. (Better than seeing it on G+).

    I have to laugh about missing the pupating process, lol ! (I know about that and hope to write about it too).

  4. The funniest part is when you had visions of you going to the dentist with your camera and boxes!

    Can't wait for next Parts!

  5. Thanks guys! (and hello Lucille!)
    My husband has tried to set up a webcam he had here linked up to a laptop but can't get it working. I may have to look at getting something else. I have no idea about time lapse on cameras and it'd have to be inside the box, pointing in the right direction. Hmmmm!

    Miss M - look forward to hearing about your pupating process experience!
    J-Y - there is NOTHING funny about me having to go the dentist ;-)

    Actually I think the next pupating process is going to happen tomorrow.....but we will be out for a few hours as need to go to the supermarket!

  6. Amazing pictures Mandy, at this rate you'll be opening up a butterfly farm!


    1. Thank you Philippa! I have visions of a heated conservatory filled with tropical plants and tropical butterflies..... just a dream though!

  7. This is so fascinating, Mandy! I have missed several molts, and I have yet to actually see the butterfly emerge. i seem to peek in after the deed is done. So, I am glad to see some of this through your experience. Wonderful...and I am looking forward to part 3

    1. Thanks M! I really hope to see at least one buttefly emerge and have 4 chances! That of course will be the most exciting thing of all, and then there is the pleasue of releasing it into the wild. :-)

  8. Isn't it amazing that different species across the ocean develop in exactly the same way with the same type of chrysalis? Anyhow, I'm amazed. Yours have different colored spots. And the butterfly will be a tad different. But oh yes, they love to wander! We lost one, too. And thought I had starved it to death, but found out differently later on in the autumn . . .