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Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Raising Swallowtails - Part 3

On Saturday I left you with a bit of a cliffhanger as they say in TV soap series talk. OK, this wasn't a life or death situation (although it could have been and did involve several heart stopping moments for me). What happened is that I came in from the garden in the afternoon with some dill to feed to my caterpillars, namely at this stage Little Guy and Teeny Guy.

I immediately noticed that Little Guy's box had that all too familiar watery pooey frass which meant it was time for him to go into the big box and start the fairly lengthy process of turning into a chrysalis. Without having read up about this I am guessing this is some kind of purging of waste out of their bodies as they do not eat any more before becoming a chrysalis.

Only - Little Guy wasn't there. At first I wasn't too worried, expecting him to be somewhere on the windowsill, but after I'd ended up moving everything off it and he was nowhere to be seen I was having kittens. Looked down at my feet to make sure I hadn't trodden on him, nope - oh god the cat's in the kitchen, has he eaten it? All these heart stopping moments whilst I scanned the walls, checked the tea towels that were on hooks just below the windowsill, started looking further afield and suddenly, thankfully, I spotted him!

Little Guy makes a bid for freedom

The little tinker, he was halfway across the kitchen floor! Luckily at this point my OH came in so I was able to ask him to cut me a stick to size to put in the big box for him. I picked up Little Guy who promptly decided to go walkabout up my arm.

"What's the time, Mr Wolf Caterpillar?"

"Three hairs past a freckle"

(That may only make sense to British people who were kids at about the same time as me).

Right matey, I think my T-shirt sleeve is far enough!

So off he went into the big box whereupon he explored just like the others did for a while until the next morning when he was nicely settled on a stick. Oh, but not the 3rd stick we'd put in there for him, but right up the bum of one of the others!

This is me lifting the stick up so I can take a photo. He's only about an inch off ground level!
This was at 7.20am Sunday 16th.

A little while later he started to wriggle his front end around and was obviously forming that silk that holds his front end up to the stick. It was really hard to photograph as I didn't want to move the stick to disturb him. (By the way I have since bought a new clearer plastic storage box which I will transfer them all into as this one is cloudy, and has scratches on the sides).

Little Guy wiggles about making silk strands to hold him up.

Not very easy to see but he was wiggling from side to side.
You can just see the silk thread holding up the green chrysalis.

Monday afternoon - he'd been in this final position since sometime on Sunday afternoon
or evening (which I didn't record).

Really cute!

I then spent the entire day Monday watching him every 2-3 minutes, apart from a worrying couple of hours in the morning when we had to go shopping. When I came upstairs to use my computer, the box came with me. When I had to go out and do my mucky ducky chores, my OH was under strict instructions to watch and yell out the window if anything happened. In the evening still nothing had happened so he spent the evening on the coffee table whilst we watched some TV. It was actually really quite exhausting watching him so much but I was determined to see the final moult through to the chrysalis emerging.

But bedtime came and there was no way I could stay awake and quite frankly, this IS only a caterpillar so I am not going to lose my beauty sleep over it.....

Of course you know what I'm going to say now. Yup, when I got up he looked like this:

A different colour!!!

I've no idea why he is a different colour from the other two who are bright green. Is it different sexes? There is so much more detail on him - he's really quite fascinating looking.

Am I seeing things or can I see wing markings there already?

I don't even know if the head end of a caterpillar becomes the head end of the butterfly! I really don't actually want to look this up because I'm really loving discovering all these new and unexpected things for myself! When it's all over I'll read up and try to find out more about my questions I'm asking myself.

Finally here's the moulted bit.

Couldn't get it sharp enough but it is tiny and you can see the head end on the right
and the scrunched up body bits on the left.

In the meantime, Teeny Guy continues to grow so it won't be long before it's his turn.

I also picked up a tiny green caterpillar in the dill whilst I was picking some food for my Swallowtails. This is the second little green one I've come across so I decided to bring it in to find out what it may be. I googled like crazy to find out what else dill may be the hostplant of but I could find nothing - and this could be a moth for all I know. But I won't post it here because this is the story of my Swallowtails. I'll let you know in due course in another posting.

Part 4 will follow at some point when hopefully I get to see a butterfly emerging but I don't hold out much hope of seeing Teeny Guy moult into a chrysalis - I've had one do it during the afternoon, one about 11pm and this guy during the night, so it's obviously quite random!


  1. So fascinating! I am so glad you found the caterpillar. I was worried there for a moment. My two are different colors than the first few I had in the butterfly mesh enclosure. I wonder if that is their winter hibernation mode. We have had some cool frost yet, but cool. If they don't emerge soon, I guess I will know.

    1. Hi M, I've been told there is a reason for the different colour but I wasn't told why because I'd said I wanted to figure things out for myself! I really need to read up about it though as I'm intrigued. I am a bit worried about releasing them (as butterflies) outside though if the weather is cold or wet.

  2. They wander to get away from the host plant to be safer from predators. Our wild Monarchs ended up everywhere, like your cabbage whites: inside piles of rocks, under the tiller, one inside the mower, and two on the house. All of us cat moms mess that up and make them stay with the host plant! None of my swallowtails would make a chrysalis with another swallowtail like yours did. Jean-Yves told me that there are two colors of chrysalis. I thought originally that the color difference was because of the stick that they made chrysalis on: brown for brown sticks and green for green sticks. So we put a red stick in to see if our hypothesis was true: it was false. J-Y laughed!

    1. I read that they will be green if they choose a green branch/twig/whatever or brown if it's a brown twig, as camouflage - but that didn't work out right here did it? lol

      In a way I did move mine to a different habitat - from the smaller plastic tubs into the big plastic storage box when I realised they were ready and starting to escape from the original container.