Sunday, May 17, 2020

Swallowtail Tales

Black Swallowtail Butterfly colorpencil By Meera Rao

In mid April, one day for garnishing my pasta I brought in a bunch of parsley from the garden. Being a Vegan, I always check to make sure nothing is crawling around among the leaves. This time I found a bunch of tiny black dots and couple of  little larger ovals with a white band in the middle! Looking at them using a magnifying glass confirmed right away my suspicions. Those were the Black Swallowtail caterpillars :) I had to rescue them. So the bunch of parsley went into a vase and I now had new pets to watch over! A new page idea for my 'covid diary' obviously.

It was amazing to watch the tiny little caterpillars with voracious appetite methodically chomping away the parsley leaves! I had not seen any butterflies in the yard yet so I researched and found out that the eggs may have been hibernating during the winter waiting for the right signal from mother nature. We had to constantly restock the parsley leaves to keep up with the chompers and clean all the droppings that seemed to rain down constantly! It took about ten days for the caterpillar to be full grown. 

Then one started getting restless and racing up and down the stems. My husband guessed it was looking for a sturdier twig and brought a couple from the garden. And he was right! Next, one of the caterpillars did a 'purge' and then settled on a twig.  First its hind end was attached to the twig and then it spun one single thread and attached itself like a telephone linesman! (or a coconut tree climber) We kept checking on it for many hours. While we were away for about an hour to go pick up the groceries we had ordered, the caterpillar discarded its outer skin to reveal the chrysalis shell. In the lower left box of the photo montage above, is the discarded skin(top left corner ) and 'the purge'

Unfortunately, one of the caterpillars fell victim to a spider - I guess we were not vigilant enough :(  It happened soon after the caterpillar became immobile after attaching itself to the stick.  The spider must have come in with the twigs and leaves ! I guess the natural cycle has many aspects.

Chrysalis about ten minutes before the butterfly emerged (hindsight!) 

Last night the chrysalis started turning dark in color.  It had been about twelve days and my research informed me that in the morning as the sunlight and warmth come about the butterfly may emerge. We both checked the chrysalis around six in the morning and again around 6:20 when I noticed beautiful dots and design. I took a photo and assumed it was not time yet thinking it had to turn darker. I went to make myself a cup of coffee. Next thing I knew, the butterfly was already out of the chrysalis and hanging next to a leaf. We took it outside and waited.  It took its own time warming up and stretching its wings. About three hours later it hopped to a flower close by and in no time at all flew off!  And I found out more blue in the wings makes it a female butterfly :) 

We have one more chrysalis indoors.  Hoping we will be able to see the butterfly emerge from this cocoon from the start !  Meanwhile we have to make sure there is plenty of parsley and dill growing in the garden. 


ashok said...

Stay safe Meera

Meera Rao said...

Thank you ! And wish you safe and healthy creative days during lockdown !

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