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Sunday, 8 June 2014

Raising Swallowtails - Part 8

So the previous post I got up to Stage 5 so this is Stage 6 onwards. I now know that Stage 6 is the last but one instar, no. 4. And by the way guess who has six more tiny caterpillars added to her flock? Well they keep coming in on fennel which I'm picking for my babies, or I'm finding them on the yellowing leaves at the bottom of the plants and I'm sure they are too small to walk all the way up to another fennel frond, that'd be like 100 miles for them!

Here I have a Stage 5 (right) and a Stage 6.

I was lucky enough to notice one of the caterpillars in the middle of a moult, so grabbed my camera!

Turning into Stage 6 (Instar 4).

Here you can clearly see the head capsule still on the head,
which is always very pale just after a moult.

Still wearing the head capsule.

Now the capsule is just attached by a bit of web and the moulted skin at the side.

From the outside of the bowl you can see that the caterpillar has attached itself to it
with fine webbing before having a moult.

Here it is a while later showing how it has lost the 'bird dropping' white marking now.

And a view of the rear end.

Stage 8 or rather Instar 5 which is the final stage before pupating. During this period the caterpillar grows enormously. Obviously by this time they are a lot easier to photograph and on June 2nd my three largest ones all moulted so kept me busy watching and shooting!

Stage 8 just moments after a moult - at this point the face is very pale but darkens up within
about an hour. You can see the head capsule with the familiar Swallowtail facial markings
in the right hand corner. You can see the ocelli (simple eyes) a lot clearer as well.

June 2nd - this is another one after a moult and the facial markings are just visible now.

A few minutes later and the colouring is even darker, and the head capsule is still next to it.

4th June and much bigger and showing their beautiful colours now.

6th June and the 4th caterpillar reaches Stage 8/Instar 5. Here it is eating its moulted skin.
You can see the difference in size between one which was at that stage four days previously!
Also note size of bigger caterpillar's frass (poo) compared to the smaller one's head capsule!

Photo shoot time.

Excuse me would you stop eating just for a moment as I'm trying to measure you!

One thing I've learned about caterpillars, they either eat and poo like crazy,
or do absolutely nothing. Sometimes they don't move for 2 days before a moult.

Finally, pupation draws near when they go on walkabout. Just before the pupation process the caterpillar does what I call 'watery frass', a liquid poo presumably purging themselves before the long period of metamorphosis. They then feel the need to wander off because they are looking for a place to pupate in. At this point I have to get them into the big box with a mesh lid. There are now three in there (I found the second one on my magnifying glass, just as I was picking it up to look at the first one!!), two of which are firmly attached to a stick with their silk cradle and will probably be chrysalises by this evening.

Up the wall is a lot less dangerous than across the floor, which I've seen before!

I think I saw their mummy out of the kitchen window yesterday whilst I was making strawberry jam and had to nip out to take a few pics. There's no way to tell if it is male or female and it was very tatty and at the end of its days, however there are a lot of fresh eggs suddenly on the bronze fennel! 

Very tatty Swallowtail (Papilio machaon) with a good amount of hindwing missing.

It was just clinging to the Valerian.

Though when I gingerly put a finger up to it, it flew away as it wasn't having any of that!

OK the rest of what happens is already documented in these posts so I don't need to keep taking photos.... or do I? :-)

Links to all the previous posts re. raising Swallowtails:

Part 1 - 2012 - introducing my caterpillars and learning a lot about them.
Part 2 - the start of the pupation process.
Part 3 - lots of chrysalises forming but I never actually witnessed one.
Part 4 - the one in which I finally managed to see and photograph a caterpillar turning into a chrysalis.
Part 5 - 2013 - the following spring and what happened to my overwintered chrysalises.
Part 6 - finding more caterpillars and getting through to the butterfly stage.
Part 7 - 2014 - from egg to caterpillar (the most recent post).

I have one more thing to witness .... an eclosion! If you read Part 6 you'll know how long I spent watching and how many frustrations I had last year.  But this time I do have my OH's new trail camera which is one of those infrared and movement detector thingies so I can put it in the box and set it to take photos at intervals, or at movement, or photo plus 10 second video etc etc. Well I can't, as I haven't a clue how it works, but he can. No idea of quality but anything is better than nothing!

By the way I should mention that 'cats' are incredibly fun and rewarding pets but possibly more time consuming than the feline variety!


  1. Fascinating, and aren't they gorgeous colours? Yes please stick some more pics on- would love to see the chrysalis :-)

    1. They are lovely colours which is probably what draws me to them.... well that and the adult butterfly! I have already shared all the pics of the whole pupation process which is why I put all the links at the bottom of the post with a description. :-) There will only be a part 9 when I get to see an actual eclosion... got quite a few chances this time. But I'm sure I'll take more photos as I'm pretty incapable of not doing so. :D

  2. Fascinating stuff and such fabulous photography to support the story. These look quite a bit larger than most of the caterpillars we get here in the U.K. Although we do still get swallowtails in a couple of places of course.

    I have gone through exactly what you have been describing with waiting and watching for eclosion to take place-only missed it once when I left to make a coffee! Not sure if you'll have seen my little video of one I did manage to catch? 9not sure if that will work, might need to copy and paste) Anyhow..superb blog and update, look forward to the next.

  3. Ooops! Sorry about hitting '9' instead of parenthesis ;-)

    1. No worries I understood and I've just read and watched your post which was fantastic!
      Thanks so much for visiting and for the great comment. I have seen some moth caterpillars that were about as big as the Swallowtail ones - the Mullein Moth has a big and chubby caterpillar and a hairy one (whose name I can't remember) was pretty big too. :-)

  4. Great post Mandy and interesting to read, the photos are brilliant especially the last one, reminds me of the caterpillar in Alice in wonderland.The one one the wall just shows how big they are.Will have a look at pupation stage, but I'm looking forward to seeing the Butterflies at the end. Allot of work has gone into this so thank you very much for sharing.
    Amanda xx

    1. Thanks very much Amanda! I think we all know how time consuming blogging is when there are lots of photos so I don't want to repeat myself for the later stages. If I can get a video of one pupating that would be good but the 3rd one went and did it earlier than I had imagined (I have 3 chrysalises now) and anyway, the trail camera was a bit rubbish inside the butterfly box. I will have to try one of my other cameras although how long the video will run for I don't know. :-)

  5. OMG!!! Such fun! Fantastic photographic documentation. And...what a wonderful distraction!

    No butterflies here these days, except for an occasional Blue. It's much too hot for them now....over 38C. I am heading north to higher elevation next week and will be there the rest of the month. I will repeat the trip two weeks in July, August and Sept. Rain/snow levels have been very low up there this year but I have hopes of finding wildflowers and butterflies. Oh...and fungi of course :-)

    Heading over to catch up on your other postings!

    1. Thanks very much Marianne! I now have 3 chrysalises and one running around in pre-pupation mode so it's all go here. :-)

      You are going to have so much fun on your trips - that's lots of time for exploring and I hope you have less stormy weather this year than last, and I cross fingers you'll find loads of butterflies (and other exciting things)!

      I'm planning a day out next week to a new wetland area to explore for birding, odonata-ing, lepidoptera-ing and whatever else we may find. Have to go whilst we are having wall to wall sunshine! :-)

  6. Replies
    1. Thanks very much Red, and nice to see you! *waves* :-)

  7. What a brilliant set / series of informative blogs Mandy.[As you will have noticed I'm working backwards] Your shots are envy inducing as usual. Also amazed at how many blogs I've missed while being busy in my own wee world - you have been industrious. No wonder you have little time for G+.

    Been busy trying to get packed and organised for the tandem trip. Always amazed how long it takes to organise so little. Four panniers and two smaller bags. As usual, you must wave at every tandem you see, just in case.

    1. I'm replying now Nick, although you won't see it as you are now away! These critters are keeping me busy (as well as the garden) and I'm waiting for the first one to eclose.

      I do wonder how many tandems you see. I've never seen one in France!