From Piece of Pooh to Beautiful Butterfly…

Juvenile Swallowtail Caterpillar

Meet the juvenile black swallowtail larva (I’m pretty darned sure). This little guy looks like a piece of bird pooh for a reason.

Specifically, it is employing feces camouflage. By resembling a bit of bird poop, the caterpillar makes itself look singularly unappetizing during the vulnerable first part of its life.

And by “little guy”, I do mean little. This worm was exactly 3/16ths of an inch long — just about 5mm long.

No, really, about the size of a grain of rice.

That leaf? It is the end of a parsley leaf.

I was wrong. This is not a swallowtail larva. It is most likely of the Brush-footed butterfly family (Nymphalidae). Swallowtail caterpillars of this size look very similar — similarly bird poop like — but do not have spines.

Swallowtail Butterfly Caterpillar

It is amazing how quickly they grow. Within only a few days, that little pooh-pillar turns into a rather stunning green worm that will grow to up to 2″ in length.

Not so coincidentally, the caterpillar features a new defense mechanism. When harassed, it sticks two bright orange antenna out of its head that stink horribly.

Swallowtail Butterfly Worm Face Caterpillar

Even without the antenna, the caterpillar’s head is really quite striking.

I tried to get a shot with the antenna sticking up, but discovered that the caterpillar seems to fairly rapidly learn that any particular stimulus is not threatening and will stop wasting energy defending against harmless “attacks”.

Swallowtail Caterpillar/Chrysalis

Once the caterpillar has fully stuffed itself, it will go and find a nice stick to hang itself.

It first attaches its rear and two points at the front to the stick. It then sheds its skin as it transforms into a chrysalis within which the caterpillar morphs into a butterfly.

This stage can last anywhere from 10 days to several months as the caterpillar will effectively hibernate during the winter months.

Roger And Swallowtail

Roger once gathered a swallowtail chrysalis off of a fence in late October. He took it home and stashed it away somewhere in his room, insisting periodically that it was still alive.

We really didn’t believe him but, sure enough, one day in the spring there was a beautiful western swallowtail wandering about his room!

The chrysalis will either be green or brown.

Swallowtail on Bromeliad

Eventually, the butterfly will emerge from its chrysalis. Upon emerging, the wings are still wet and the butterfly will spend quite a bit of time getting its wings ready for flight.

During this time, the critter is quite content to walk around on a hand or otherwise hang out with humans.

This swallowtail was just on the verge of flying when I placed it on a bromeliad bloom.

The combination of the butterflies desire to expose its wings to the maximum sunlight, the perfectness of the newly formed wings, and the relatively tame nature of the butterfly makes for an ideal subject!

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6 Responses to “From Piece of Pooh to Beautiful Butterfly…”

  1. John C. Randolph says:

    Your boy certainly has a way with bugs.

    Great photos, BTW.


  2. annbb says:

    beautiful! Someday you’ll get the antenna photo! I do remember how bad they smelled…
    See you tomorrow in beautiful Missouri.

  3. Doug DuCap says:

    Love the vivid colors!

  4. dino delellis says:

    Hehehe , ” Pooh-pillar” I like that , I saw quite a handful of those little guys all over my grandmother’s garden. And your absolutely right I up close their body color closely resemble bird droppings. And when I try poking them they arc backward and their stinky ” horns ” come out.

    I wonder how long their pooh disguises work until the birds see through it and try to gobble them up.

  5. Erick Larson says:

    We live in Charlotte, NC and the swallowtail caterpillars in our herb garden love the parsley. They don’t seem to prefer it to the mint, chives and other flowering plants.

  6. Erick Larson says:

    Sorry, I meant to say that the do prefer it to the mint, chives & other plants.

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