Spicebush swallowtail caterpillar

These are my favorite caterpillars and I like finding them in the backyard. The first sign is when I find a leaf on my native Kentucky spicebush (Lindera benzoin) cut and folded like this.

Spicebush leaf with spicebush swallowtail caterpillar

When I open the leaf, I usually see a small spicebush swallowtail caterpillar (Papilio troilus).

Small spicebush swallowtail caterpillar

In a week or so, I often find a large leaf folded in half like this.

Spicebush leaf folded in half by spicebush swallowtail caterpillar

When I open the leaf, this is my special treat.

Close-up of spicebush swallowtail caterpillar with eyespots

Isn’t it a cutie? Those are false eye spots and the head is actually hidden under what looks like a mouth, but isn’t. The face is supposed to look scary – especially to critters looking for a meal.

The folded leaf is created by a web spun by the caterpillar. It hides there in the daytime and comes out at night to eat.

Spicebush swallowtail butterfly (Papilio troilus)

Eventually, the caterpillar changes into a chrysalis and emerges as a spicebush swallowtail butterfly. These butterflies only lay their eggs on spicebush or sassafras (Sassafras albidum) plants.

Spicebush is one of my favorite native Kentucky shrubs. I appreciate the small yellow blooms that are one of the first signs of spring, and I like the delightful spicy smell of the leaves. And, it’s the host of my favorite caterpillar!

Monarch book

I recently created a small picture book. As the subject of half of my previous blogs, you can see how enthused I am about butterflies. The book is a way to share my enjoyment with others. You can preview it on Blurb and order a copy if you like.

This paperback book follows a monarch butterfly from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis and finally to adult butterfly. I’ve used simple words and photographs, and hope the book will appeal to young children as well as adults.

I wouldn’t have had this experience without common milkweed in our backyard. It’s yet another reason I’m glad we landscaped with native plants.