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Sunday, 13 July 2014

Raising Swallowtails - Part 11 - Video of a Pupation

I thought Part 10 would be the end of this series but then I thought I'd see if I could get a video of one of my caterpillars pupating. I've missed nearly all of them doing it but one day I noticed one of them twitching and wriggling a bit, so decided to set up my makeshift studio (lots of kitchen paper and blue tack) and set my camera video running, just in case. 

Well the twitching went on for a long time so my Cybershot batteries were running low and I switched to my Powershot SX50, which just about fitted OK on the mini tripod although it sagged a bit. But it annoyingly kept turning itself off every 16 minutes, so I had an egg timer in my pocket set to 15 mins so I could keep running to check and reset it filming!

At this point a friend on facebook who has the same camera told me how to switch the auto power down setting to off, but as I went downstairs to reset the camera, guess what started happening? Luckily there was enough time before the camera turned itself off to capture the whole pupation, and then I reset it to film some more over a period of time. So with the help of my OH and his Mac software, 'we' have edited this little film to show the pupation and how the newly formed chrysalis goes about changing afterwards into the shape that it stays like until a butterfly emerges from it, about 11 to 16 days later.

So with thanks to (another) friend who mentioned that I could make the video appear bigger here rather than the automatic small size it comes in at when linking to Youtube here it is .... and if you are reading this via an email subscription, you will not see this video so you will have to come direct to the blog to view it.

I'm onto the second batch of caterpillars/chrysalises now and am glad I'm not coming across more tiny caterpillars outside, as food is getting a bit low! There are already quite a few large caterpillars outside on the dill and fennel, and we've now found three of them settled down in pre-pupation outside. Two were in completely inappropriate places so had to be brought inside and the third I am keeping an eye on outside to see what happens so more about that in a later post..... I can already see that life is tough for the outdoor ones compared to my pampered indoor pets. 

Of the two we found outside and brought in, one had decided that a nice yellow string lying flat on the ground was a good place to pupate! In an effort to try to tidy up in the aftermath of the septic tank installation, we had strung a line to try to redefine lawn and gravel drive and started edging after the ground was softened by recent rain. Thankfully that caterpillar hadn't yet made its cradle so was brought indoors where it quickly settled down and pupated! One thing I noticed by bringing it indoors is how much more green it was than my indoor raised caterpillars - and in fact of the indoor ones, the dill fed caterpillars are more green than the fennel fed ones. 

Outdoor caterpillar comes in and shows its Ringo face (butt end!) one last time before pupating.

The other one was on a woody weed stem which had to be taken out; this was at the edge of my gravel drive but the ground levels had changed since the pipework had been laid and I was waiting until after my houseleeks had flowered before having to remove them (and the weeds!). That one is now indoors too, on its weed stem.

Something that I have only recently learned is how to sex the Swallowtail butterfly. As male and female are pretty much identical in markings I hadn't realised until after some research that there is a difference.... males have claspers at the end of their abdomen which they use to grab the female whilst mating. It's not very apparent or easy to see as the claspers are usually held together, but it seems to me that the female has a more flat end to her abdomen, which seems to be fatter as well, whilst the male is slimmer and has a pointy end. So I think in the last batch there were far more males than females, which is a good thing given there are only limited food resources round here, and I don't want them laying eggs on the neighbours' carrot leaves and being considered as pests!

I shared this before but now realise this is a male, as you can clearly see the claspers
(pointy bits) at the end of the abdomen.

Lastly, and I know this is a disjointed post, but this is what comes of having shared stuff on facebook then realising I hadn't done so here, here are some pics of one of the caterpillars making its cradle. Before taking the photos I had never really thought about how they did this, but having watched for a while on a rainy afternoon they actually spend a fair amount of time repetitively making silk threads and weaving them from side to side, so the cradle is made up of many threads. It is very tough stuff as after they've eclosed I have to pull off the chrysalis shell and some of this silk from the mesh lid that they are so fond of and the threads get left behind. I still can't see exactly what is going on so I might have to make a video, although it would have to be speeded up somewhat! :-)

By the way, these shots were all taken one handed as I was having to hold up the mesh lid to get at the caterpillar. You can see what I'm talking about better in the final photo. 

It was a bit of a slow process.

Quite a lot of silk strands are made to form this cradle.


The new cradle showing multiple strands - it is visible just behind the third true leg
(front pointy legs) and what you see to the right is old silk from a previous cradle.

Oh and one more just showing how this lot decided it would be fun to group up, and what
a nuisance it is for me with them on the mesh as I can't easily photograph anything
going on here, let alone video it! So few of them use the sticks I provide.


  1. Love the video Mandy, works really well and your patience has paid off.

    1. Thanks very much Ian. I am glad that friends encouraged me to use the hardly used video function on my camera(s)! It's great to be able to really see it happening properly; no matter how many photos you take it is not quite the same. Cheers. :-)

  2. Great job Mandy..
    The silk strands they make for the cradle just fascinate me, it's just brilliant what nature can do.
    Amanda xx

    1. Thanks Amanda! I know, I don't tire of watching these critters, just trying to enjoy my last 6 caterpillars as it goes a bit boring when they pupate and just sit there doing nothing for ages until they become butterflies! :-)

  3. That is quite an amazing thing to watch Mandy, thanks for posting it.

    1. Thank you Roy - I'm so pleased I managed to record it as it's such a fascinating process to watch. :-)