We have two types of Swallowtail butterfly in our garden every summer, the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) and the Black Swallowtail (Papiliopolyxenes). I raised a Black Swallowtail caterpillar in the house last year hoping to see it’s stages of transformation. It became a butterfly in early winter which was too late to find food anywhere aside from what bloomed in the basement. He was clearly a late bloomer, if you’ll pardon the play on words. I hope to do it again this year but earlier in the season. I have been looking for a caterpillar up and down the Dills and Parsleys, their favorite food, but have seen none so far. I guess the birds have done too good of a job.
To my delight last week, I spotted a black-winged swallowtail. When I looked closely however, it turned out to be a Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus). This is the first time I have seen a Spicebush Swallowtail in the garden. I saw another one yesterday. It’s a great addition to our garden, but I still miss the Black Swallowtail , none of whom have shown themselves yet this year. I still have my hopes up though since it’s only August.
Remember that little Black Swallowtail caterpillar I kept in the house since August? The one that crawled from the living room dill plant up the curtain and turned into a chrysalis, suspended from our curtain for weeks? I gave up on it after a few weeks. I read somewhere that a chrysalis would take at most two weeks to turn to a butterfly. I waited for a month, kept checking on it every day, but nothing happened. After two months, I took the mummified chrysalis off the curtain and gave it to Bill. We both were saddened by the notion that we might have killed the little guy.
Surprise!!!! I was home today, cleaning up the whole house. At one point I got to Bill’s desk and saw a Black Swallowtail on it. I thought he had picked up a dead butterfly from outside and put it on his desk. But, when I tried to move it out of the way, the butterfly moved it wings. I was spooked. It is the end of November and the temperature outside is below 50 degree…where did it come from? Then I realized that the little Black Swallowtail had just come out of its cocoon. The empty cocoon was still on Bill’s desk.
I let him crawl on my finger and took him down to the basement where we have flowering plants. I don’t know how long he will last. I can’t put him outside since there is nothing out there to eat and there’s frost every morning. There are a few jasmines, Sweet Almond Verbena, and Lantana still blooming in the basement and it’s definitely warmer than outside. But, how long will he survive?
As much as I’m happy to see it became a butterfly, I’m saddened that I cannot do much for it. If it hadn’t held off for three months, it would be outside enjoying all the flowers in our garden.
I don’t know how long a chrysalis is supposed to survive in that state, but this particular one took more than three months to become a butterfly. But become a butterfly he did and that’s dedication.
After he had been suspended in caterpillar form from our curtain for a couple of days, he transformed into a chrysalis overnight. He looks like a piece of bark hanging off the curtain with a little silk thread. I just hope I won’t come home and find a butterfly flying around the house. Tethered to the drapes by one silk lanyard, he could be a New York City window washer. In fact, he bears a resemblance to one or two that I’ve seen. I’m only sorry we didn’t set up a stop motion video camera to see the change in action.