blooming swallowtails

i was scoping the garden yesterday for bloom day inspiration and came upon a surprise much more interesting than the few measly flowers that were blooming:

giant swallowtail, Papilio cresphontes

i certainly wasn’t expecting to see a giant swallowtail, freshly hatched, hunkered down in the foliage on a blustery (wind gusts 20-40 mph) and warm (77 degree) december day!  i ran to the porch where i knew there were three swallowtail chrysali hanging and sure enough, one of them was open:

a giant swallowtail chrysalis, zipped open & nicely camouflaged to its surroundings

this is what the chrysali look like before they hatch (this was in a different part of the garden earlier this summer):

giant swallowtail chrysalis

check out the super strong protein threads they suspend themselves from… these tiny details fascinate me!  here’s an image of the caterpillar, foraging on mr. grwhryrpltd’s precious dwarf key lime tree, Citrus aurantifolia:

giant swallowtail caterpillar on dwarf key lime tree

notice the giant caterpillar frass at the bottom left of the image above (yep, that’s insect poop).  now you see why mr. grwhryrpltd isn’t so fond of them.

giant swallowtail caterpillars... they even look like bird poop, on purpose!

at one point there were 20 little caterpillars between that and another citrus tree (my precious buddha’s hand citron, Citrus medica var. sarcodactylus).  by early november only half of the caterpillars survived, while the citrus trees kept producing new leaves.  the day i got back from the quilt festival i noticed a mockingbird hanging out in the rose bush nearby.  odd, because it was so close to the driveway and didn’t fly away when we drove up… but then i realized the bird was feasting on the plump caterpillars!  i ran out of the car only to find one left, which had its orange antennae fully extended and inflated, exuding a sulphurous pheremone that i now recognize as their go-go-gadget-get-away-from-me defense mechanism.  i picked it up anyway and tucked it down into the leaf mould beneath the hairy wedelia* for protection from that damn mockingbird, which i also made sure to shoo away.  a week or so later i found three chrysali on the brick wall of the front porch and wondered when they’d hatch, if at all, with the sporadic weather we’ve been having.  so it’s a understatement to say i was grateful to stumble upon the prettiest bloom all december…

keeping wings low out of the wind

a wind gust reveals the wing's yellow undersides

so nice to meet you giant swallowtail... safe travels to you

it’s the simple things that amaze me.  happy (belated, yet again) bloom day.

*hairy wedelia, (Wedelia texana a.k.a. zexmenia hispida) was one of the few measly flowers in bloom yesterday.  it’s a native, tough and drought tolerant.  and protective fodder for swallowtails.

a tiny hairy wedelia bloom

a wider shot of hairy wedelia's wide and low growth habit

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9 thoughts on “blooming swallowtails

  1. You get the coolest bugs & butterflies! Did you know what the caterpillars were when they first appeared? Happy trails to the Swallowtails. (I’m keeping mum on 77 degree December days. We got one of those 7s this morning.

  2. thanks lynn! yes, i did know the caterpillars were soon-to-be giant swallowtails but only because i looked them up. we also had the regular-sized swallowtails too, but their caterpillars look completely different (not like bird poop). how exciting to see them come to fruition…
    sending warm thoughts your way 😉

  3. It’s not because they poop on my precious dwarf key lime tree – it’s because they eat it! It is struggling to stay alive as it is!

    My priorities in order:
    1. Preserving my precious dwarf key lime tree
    2. Swallowtails
    3. Damn mockingbird (they are fat enough already!)

    • yes dear, i know. but seeing that we have yet to harvest a key lime, i’m glad that something can enjoy the fruits of our watering labor… if nothing else, the caterpillar frass fertilizes the tree, something we haven’t been so good at. full circle.

  4. OK, you and the Mr are cracking me up with your banter. I have to believe allowing the caterpillars to eat the tree is worth it for that one beautiful swallowtail alone! I suspect he’d disagree, though!

  5. You two are so funny. I have to be with the mister on this one: Let’s have some key limes for gin and tonics! Whee! Alright, alright, I love the giant swallowtails too. How amazing that they’ve evolved to look like bird poop while a caterpillar.

  6. From ‘bird poop’ to glorious butterfly. How fantastic nature is! Poor Mr. G. I can certainly see his point, but that gorgeous creature is surely worth it 🙂 Had to laugh about the opportunistic mocking bird. Can’t fool him with that ‘bird poop’ disguise 🙂
    Love your pics!
    Enjoyed seeing the chickens (and art work) in the previous post too! Fun!

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