Saturday, May 19, 2012

Butterfly success!

The suspense is finally over. The first of last fall's black swallowtail chrysalids (see here and here for the beginning of this story) is now a gorgeous butterfly!

Interestingly, the first caterpillar to change into chysalis is now the first butterfly.

After the caterpillars became chrysalids last fall, I just couldn't bear abandoning them outside, even to the relative safety of my garden shed. So I kept them inside on my desk all winter, silent little companions.

Then in early April I moved the chrysalids outside onto my back porch. I hoped the still-cool nights and gradually warming days would trigger the metamorphosis. I wired the twigs to an old chair beneath a maple tree, where they'd get late afternoon sun and still be protected from heavy rain.

I worried something could harm the chrysalids, but this was the safest spot I could find.

I've been checking the chrysalids every couple days since then for any sign of change. I had just about given up when two nights ago, I noticed one chrysalis had suddenly turned dark. I'd read that a day before eclosure the chrysalis skin turns translucent and the adult wing colors show through. I was too tired that evening to really think about it, though, let alone get a photo. Indeed, by the next morning I had totally forgotten about it.

When I got home from work in the evening, I started my normal routine of puttering in the garden. Finally though I remembered to go check the chrysalids.  I ambled into the back yard, not really expecting anything. But what a surprise-- the dark chrysalis was now an empty husk, with a beautifully formed butterfly dangling beneath it! I pelted inside to grab my camera, then spent the next forty minutes or so taking a zillion pictures and marveling at the gorgeous insect.

The butterfly flexed its new wings, allowing me to see the dark markings of a female. Pink cigars, anybody?
Tiny barbed feet clung to the old shell of the chrysalis. I wonder how long she hung there before I got home?
It was neat to be so close I could see the texture of  the antennae and the wings.
Almost ready to go...

Just a few short seconds after the last photo, I watched the butterfly climb up to the top of her twig, pause for half a heartbeat, then spread her wings and waft gently away. I lost her in the sunshine, but presume she soared upward to scope out the neighborhood and find a flower full of nectar. I don't have a lot blooming in my garden yet (the flower bed is still under construction) but I know there are plenty of blossoms nearby. My vegetable garden is also full of vigorous dill plants that sprouted from last fall's seeds, so I hope she returns once she has found a mate. I'll be examining the dill closely all summer, hoping I can repeat the cycle!


  1. Hey! This is a lovely blog. I really enjoy the pictures. The photography is amazing!

    Thanks for sharing,

  2. I have just done this with two black swallowtail caterpillars, releasing them both just yesterday. The 3rd one just pooped it's last poop (!) a little while ago and has climbed up on a stick. I'm waiting for it to make it's little silk safety belts. It is truly a miracle to watch! I am so glad I happened upon your blog just now...I read through your 2 earlier posts while the 3rd cat was deciding where it was going to land for it's final journey. You wrote some fabulous posts with some really terrific photos and explanations. Love it!

  3. Nicole, thanks so much for your kind words. Hope you're still enjoying the blog!

    Jan, how exciting! Let's hope your butterflies led healthy happy lives, perhaps returning to your yard with more eggs to continue the cycle.


Blogger Widget