Swallowtail Butterfly Project

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Swallowtail Butterfly Project

Text 2004 Janice Green
Photos 2004 Dave Green and Janice Green

When my daughter was very young we found a caterpillar on my parsley plant in the yard.  We put the caterpillar in a jar and continued to feed it parsley.   Eventually it formed a pupa and hatched into a black swallowtail butterfly.  This background experience was the inspiration for my butterfly project.

Dscn8895BlackSwallowtailWeb.jpg (58550 bytes)

Earlier this summer I planted a flower garden with lantana, butterfly bush, and  parsley with the hope that I would be able to find another caterpillar to take to school for my library students to watch as it went through the metamorphasis stages.  I saw a black swallowtail butterfly lay eggs on my parsley one Monday morning.  I didn't have a camera at the time to get a picture of the butterfly, but here is a picture of a few of her eggs. catpl egg 0014web.JPG (12481 bytes)
Dscn8934 tiny caterpillarweb.jpg (12633 bytes) In about two days the eggs hatched, but I couldn't find the caterpillars.   I was so disappointed, but after two more days I found several tiny caterpillars.   They were black with a narrow white band around their middles making them look like caterpillar feces--a great example of protective camoflage.
After two or three molts of their skin (maybe three days), they began to be more colorful.  We counted at least ten caterpillars on the parsley the day this picture was taken. dscn0019.jpg (16540 bytes)
Dscn8662LargeCaterpillarWeb.jpg (12190 bytes) After more than a week they were quite colorful, but there were only two left.  We had to be away for six dayson a trip.  Hurricane Charley passed over our neighborhood while we were away.  (Fortunately he passed more gently in South Carolina than in Florida.)  We can only guess that the rest of the caterpillars might have been eaten, they might have crawled off to make their pupae, or Charley may have blown them away.
Notice the red "horns" or osmeterium on this caterpillar's head.   When something bothers or frightens the caterpillar these osmeterium extend themselves from it's head giving off an objectionable scent that frightens the preditor away. Dscn8666CaterpillarOsmeteriumWeb.jpg (14710 bytes)
Dscn8750EarlyPupaWeb.jpg (9622 bytes) I kept one caterpillar at home and took the other one to school.  The caterpillar that was left at home in a jar changed into a pupa.  Notice that the pupa is attached to the stick at the "tail" end and it's head end points upward.   It is also supported by a web-like thread that serves as a sling to support the weight of the pupa.
The caterpillar that I took to school was unable to form a pupa due to the design of the "butterfly tower" I had to put it in.  The tower has fabric sides with a solid circular top and bottom.  I had placed a short stick in a mug at the bottom of the tower, but the caterpillar persisted in climbing the sides to the top.   The only way the caterpillar could attach itself to the ceiling forced it to hang upside-down.  The caterpiller hung there until it died.  It did not form a pupa.
Dscn8774BrownPupaWeb.jpg (12402 bytes) Meanwhile the pupa at home continues to darken as it awaits the day it will hatch into a swallowtail butterfly.
The butterfly hatched this morning (9/4/04).  I made a cage out of a cardboard box with netting over the large holes I cut in the box.  Unfortunately for me (but I'm sure the butterfly feels differently about it) the butterfly disappeared when Dave went out the door.  He took this picture when the butterfly was still stretching and drying its wings. Dscn9113NewButterflyWeb.jpg (29196 bytes)
After losing my butterfly, I caught another swallowtail butterfly in a net so I could test out my butterfly cage and see if the butterfly will gather necter from the flowers I put in the box for it.  So far it has only stayed on the sides as if it were trying to get out.  Perhaps the larger cage at school will make a difference.

Swallowtail Butterfly Project--Round Two

After some searching I found some parsley plants in a roadside plant and produce market.  My plan was to set several potted parsley plants in the flowerbed at school since there were many butterflies that frequented these flowers.  But glory of glories, when I finally found these parsley plants they already had been blessed with eggs, small caterpillars, and even one green pupa.  I will be making a suitable butterfly cage that will give the caterpillars solid vertical places where they can attach themselves when it is time to make their pupae.

Dscn8934web.jpg (16148 bytes) There are two caterpillars in this picture.  The one on the left has molted enough for its coloration to begin to change.  The one on the right is black with the white band around the middle.  This makes it easy for the caterpillar to hide since it appears to be caterpillar excrement.  Notice the eggs in the picture.   The one just below and a little to the right of the black caterpillar is most obvious, however there are others in the picture as well.
As the caterpillars grow they become more colorful.  The caterpillar in this picture is nearly large enough to make it's pupa.  Another caterpillar has already made a pupa. (photo by Janice) Dsc03773 pupa and Larva web light.jpg (24733 bytes)
Dsc03799 Butterfly larva and pupa web light.jpg (24808 bytes) The pupa above hatched into this beautiful black swallowtail butterfly.   It was still drying its wings when this picture was taken in the media center.   In the background is another larva and the empty pupa shell.  (photo by Janice)

I am trying to devise a plan for feeding my butterflies.  This one only lasted about two days.  I want to add a blooming plant to my newly built butterfly cage if I can get it to fit.

Wow!  Those "buggers" can eat!  The two lush plants that you see in the above two pictures have been devistated.  I took pictures, but I'll be a day or two getting them up.  I made another trip to the nursery and spent ten more dollars on parsley plants.  I had a feeling I shouldn't try to keep ALL the caterpillars...
Dsc03847CaterpillarFatalities.jpg (28380 bytes) Oh no!  Heartbreak on Monday.  The three new parsley plants that I put with the caterpillars had been sprayed with pesticide about a week earlier.   The nursery grower was as surprised and hurt by the loss as I was.  He hadn't expected the pesticide to still be effective. 
Fortunately a few caterpillars had already crawled off the plants and made their pupae (plural of pupa).  It is difficult to get a clear picture through the net cage, so this picture isn't very clear. Dsc03877ThreePupae.jpg (10360 bytes)
Dsc03881Butterflies.jpg (9636 bytes) Here is a picture of a male and female black swallowtail butterfly.   The female has blue on the lower wing.  The female hatched out in the media center.  The male is the one I caught in a butterfly net after the one that hatched at home slipped out the door.

Please email me with your comments and suggestions for this butterfly project.  I'm especially interested in finding a way to feed the butterflies.