Black swallowtail caterpillar

The black swallowtail butterfly caterpillar has emerged!

When I checked the egg last Tuesday at noon, I discovered it had turned dark.  I looked again at 4:30 and saw a small black dot.  Using a hand lens (a strong magnifying glass), I discovered the caterpillar was out and eating its egg shell.  By 6:30 the egg shell was gone.

Black swallowtail caterpillar on dill plant - day six

Since then the caterpillar has been eating dill and growing.  As of  day six, it is about a quarter of an inch long.  It’s black with a small white patch in the middle and spines along its back.

Black swallowtail caterpillar in cage

I created a cage using a plastic shoe box (8 x 13 inches), nylon tulle from a fabric store, and elastic ribbon.  The dill is in a florist tube filled with water.  I’ll keep the cage indoors where there is plenty of light but no direct sun, and where I can watch it.

The caterpillar is the small black spot on the dill in the image above.  I look forward to watching it grow and change.

Black swallowtail butterfly egg

I started raising native Kentucky butterflies four years ago.  It has been a relatively easy and enjoyable learning experience.  Black swallowtails (Papilio polyxenes), also known as parsley butterflies, are one of my favorites and one of the easiest to raise.

Black swallowtail butterfly egg on dill plant

Last week I saw a black swallowtail butterfly fluttering around my small patch of dill, parsley and fennel plants.  I grow these plants partly to eat, and also to attract the butterflies.  I have found eggs on these plants in the past.  Sure enough, when I looked later I found this tiny light-colored egg on a small dill plant.

Black swallowtail butterfly adult

I have brought the plant and egg inside.  I hope to photograph the black swallowtail’s life cycle.  I look forward to watching it change into a caterpillar, then a chrysalis, and finally an adult butterfly like the female above.  I am checking the egg daily and will report the happenings.

Polyphemus Moth

A friend gave me a cocoon in early March.  I felt sure it contained a moth, but I didn’t know what kind.  I put the cocoon in a cage outside the dining room window where I could watch it.

polyphemus moth

Recently, I looked out to see this big, beautiful moth that had emerged – one I had never seen before.  It had a wingspan of about six inches.  Using my Field Guide to Insects and Spiders of North America by Arthur V. Evans, I discovered it was a Polyphemus moth (Antheraea polyphemus) and that its range is most of the U.S. and Canada.  The information on Wikipedia was also helpful.

Close-up of eye spots on polyphemus hind wings

The moth gets its name from these big spots on the hind wings that look like eyes.  In Greek mythology Polyphemus was a giant who had one big eye.  The moth’s eye spots are thought to confuse and scare away its enemies.

Polyphemus moth just emerged from chrysalis

I took this image shortly after the moth emerged.  I think the cocoon now resembles a finely crafted miniature basket and I’m amazed that the caterpillar could create such a work of art.

This has been another fascinating adventure in the ways of nature.  My thanks to Dave Leonard for sharing the cocoon.

Zebra Swallowtail butterfly life cycle

Zebra swallowtail butterfly

The Zebra swallowtail is one of my favorite butterflies. I’ve often seen this butterfly while hiking woodland streams and watching for spring wildflowers. And I have seen it in our Lexington, Kentucky, backyard twice in the last two years. This photograph is special to me, because the butterfly is one I raised, and it was made shortly after the butterfly emerged from its chrysalis.

Zebra swallowtail butterfly caterpillar
Zebra swallowtail butterfly caterpillar

This is the zebra swallowtail caterpillar, which my friend, Connie brought to me. At this stage it is about one-half inch long and feeding on paw-paw leaves, the only leaves it will eat.

Zebra swallowtail chrysalis
Zebra swallowtail chrysalis

One week later it was about one inch long, and it then made this chrysalis.

Zebra swallowtail butterfly and chrysalis
Zebra swallowtail butterfly and chrysalis

Two weeks later it emerged from its chrysalis at the left of this image and became a mature buttefly. After a couple of hours, it’s wings were hardened,  it took flight and was gone. I’m ever amazed at the wonders of nature,  which certainly include the life cycles of butterflies and I thoroughly enjoyed observing this one.