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Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Raising Swallowtails - Part 9

This is already turning out to be a good year for Swallowtails. I've seen a fair few already and more eggs have been laid and I'm coming across tiny caterpillars on both bronze fennel and the dill in my veg patch. I always grew dill specifically for the Swallowtails anyway. I've also found 5 final instar caterpillars on various fennel plants so great that some of them got that far out in the wild, as so many of the eggs and young caterpillars disappear, no doubt to predators. 

I now have another 15 babies indoors, now these I do not plan to keep all the way through to butterfly, but as soon as they are large enough to handle I shall release some of them outside and keep just a few indoors to raise again. The reason I collected so many is that I found many tiny caterpillars on the lower down, dying yellow fronds of the fennel and they were too small to transfer further up the plant. Also, there seems to be some strange disease of dill this year, some plants are healthy and others have some strange thing where the leaves turn red and then the plant flops. So I've been saving tiny caterpillars from these plants too.

Little caterpillar about Instar 3 on dill in my veg patch.

Saw this really tatty butterfly the other day - wondering whether it is the same tatty one I posted before, but now she's lost nearly all of her hind wings and some of the fore wings too which are practically see through. Yet she still laid an egg! 

Swallowtail (Papilio machaon).
She wasn't going to survive much longer by the looks of things.

I got to witness a moult all the way through the process this time. I only took one photo because it was late and you can see in it the darkened head capsule which looks like it has already dislodged. What was interesting to watch was the amount of wriggling, squeezing and pushing that went on for about half an hour before the moult. I didn't photograph it because it was about 11pm, and we were watching something on the TV, so I took the bowl into the living room with me plus magnifying glass and half watched telly and half watched my caterpillar!

Just before a moult into the final instar.

The main reason for this Part 9 is because I also witnessed a pupation. I'd seen and photographed one two years ago, but this time was a little different and needed a bit of human intervention.....

I noticed this was about to happen because it suddenly started to move and wiggle.

And then the skin popped open and the chrysalis started to appear.

But note the cradle/cremaster which is holding it up -
it's not where it is supposed to be!

Oops! Yes it fell out!

This is the kitchen paper lining the box and I was having kittens
wondering if it could still manage to pupate properly.

I needn't have worried as it didn't seem to have any problems.

Nearly got rid of that skin....

Just one more wriggle and squeeze.....

And finally free. Usually when hanging, they flick this skin off. I gave it a helping hand.

Now here I learned something new, having never (obviously) handled a newly formed chrysalis I had no idea they would be so soft and squidgy! I then had to try to get it back into its cradle! That was easier said than done but I (with help from my OH)  managed to get the cradle over several of those ridges, but because it had chosen to pupate on the plastic mesh lid of the box it was really hard and I had to keep checking I was putting it back the right side up! It's now dangling down a little too far as I couldn't get it into the correct position, and is a bit wobbly when I move the box, so I'm going to get some thread and tie it up so it's in a better position for eclosing.

And the reason I know it doesn't want to be dangling down...... because there will be a Final Chapter after all...... as I have finally witnessed an eclosion and know what happens when the butterfly emerges! 

You'll have to wait a bit because I've got some video footage that needs editing, not by me as I don't have suitable software, but with help from my dear OH who is used to editing videos. :-)


  1. Fantastic! And well done on being able to sort out the chrysalis, I was told that you should avoid handling at all costs at this stage as they can be caused damage even at this stage. At one of the butterfly farms I visited they had hundreds of chrysalis that were suspended by super glue and apparently that's quite often how it's done at these places.
    Anyhow...superbly illustrated with your photographs again and I can't wait to see the video...

    1. Ohhhhhh I hope I haven't harmed it! It's one of those spur of the moment, panicky situations where you just do what you think is best at the time. Well I shall find out within the next week and let you know!

      Many butterflies' chrysalises do seem to dangle from the tip - seen pics and videos from friends in the USA who raise them, but these are different in that they make a loop around themselves about halfway along and usually stay inside that loop when pupating.

      Will try to get the video sorted soon! So much going on (bugwise) in the garden, I have lost track of my photos, haven't looked at all that I've downloaded and have 3 cameras on the go right now... aaargh. :-)

      Thanks very much, JJ. By the way you don't seem to blog a lot, so do you share your photos elsewhere? Would love to see them.

  2. Hi...
    I'm sure it'll be okay. Yes, I have raised Orange-tip for instance that have that cradle. I do not devote as much time to my blog as I would like, I always think I'll find the time but do struggle sometimes. I am very similar to you in the amount of photos I take and processing them-I also have 2 DSLR's on the go plus a point and shoot!

    Thanks for asking about my photos, I'll mail you with details.

    1. Look forward to hearing from you re. your photos and I'll cross fingers for the butterfly. :-)

  3. Thanks Mandy, amazing photos, I assume the caterpillar makes the cradle it's self ?, in nature I would imagine a few would drop out of their cradle, would this stop them from been unable to come out of their chrysalis properly ? How long did it take to chrysalis ?
    Amanda xx

    1. Hi Amanda - yes when it goes off to find a place to pupate, it settles down and at some stage (I haven't seen that bit) all of a sudden it's got a cradle around itself - I noticed also that when they moult, they make some sticky weblike stuff to anchor themselves, as they can take two days not moving or eating before moulting.

      I've got no idea if they can eclose without being in the cradle, I would image so, but there are so many things I don't know! I don't think I've noted the actual time but from when they do the watery frass and go on walkabout, it's at least 48 hours before they pupate and turn into a chysalis, although that bit is over in a couple of minutes (what I showed in the photo), although the chrysalis hardens and smooths out after that - again not sure how long but not long I don't think as I usually just look and think - Oh! another one pupated and I missed it, and they always look like a proper chrysalis rather than the pale thing in the photos above! :-)

      I would try to get a video of the pupation but I've only got about 2 hours of video time from my 2 batteries (unless I use two cameras) and it's not easy to know when it is going to happen.

    2. Thanks for the information Mandy..
      Amanda xx

  4. Nice job, Mandy! It is so interesting watching them go through the whole metamorphosis and catching it on film is a real bonus!
    I'm looking forward to seeing your video when it is posted!

    1. Thanks Kim! I've been getting my little videos sorted this afternoon - I won't bore you with the problems I've been having but one day I'll get more used to it and find some better software! :-)
      Will let you know when I post the next blog post! :-)

  5. EXCELLENT documentation! I never tired of watching the process! I'm so looking forward to your videos!

    1. Thank you Marianne! You can see what I said to Kim above about the nightmare I'm having with my videos, but they are done now. I do need to improve my hand held videos though.... but at least the one with the tripod came out well. Will get it posted either tomorrow or Sunday. :-)