Monday, February 21, 2011

Emerging early...

At the end of last summer, early fall, we found a Tiger Swallowtail caterpillar. We brought it inside to raise with our monarch caterpillars feeding it Yellow Poplar leaves, which is one of it's host foods. Our caterpillar formed it chrysalis that very night, and i expected that in 2 or 3 weeks we would be watching our caterpillar emerge and fly away.

What i didn't anticipate was that it would overwinter in it's chrysalis.

All winter we have had this stick propped up inside a vase sitting on top of our bookshelf. i hadn't totally forgotten about it, but really wasn't expecting it to emerge for quite a while so i haven't been checking on it regularly.

So you can imagine my surprise when i went to feed our frogs and saw a newly emerged butterfly hanging upside down drying off her wings.

i transferred her to our butterfly garden to protect her from my cats who had spotted her and were waiting for their chance to pounce. This is a female. Eastern Tiger Swallowtails come in two forms, light and dark or yellow and black. The Yellow Tiger swallowtails can be either male or female, however the dark (black) form is always female.

We gave her a bit of sugar water to eat, and then pondered what to do with her. i suppose she emerged early because the woodstove keeps our house so warm. We have also had a couple of really nice days in the high 60's low 70's. The impostor lady bugs and wasps have begun to appear inside, so it really should not have been a surprise that our butterfly would chose to emerge as well.
We really were not sure what to do with her. We could keep her in captivity, and feed her sugar water and rotting fruit. Swallowtails only have a lifespan of about 2 weeks. Although our temps have been nice, it is supposed to get cold again. Butterflies are cold blooded and need day time temperatures of 55-60 degrees to fly.

All morning our butterfly sat at the top of the enclosure, frantically beating her wings trying to escape. i decided that a life in captivity is not a life at all for a butterfly, so we decided to release her knowing that if the temperatures drop too low she will die. We chose to trust in nature. Butterflies have very strong instincts. She wants to fly to find a mate and lay her eggs. Who are we to stop her?
So yesterday our temps were over 70 degrees, and we took her outside. i just barely had a second to snap this picture before she flew. She flew straight up as fast and as far as she could, as if she knew exactly where she was going. i think she did.

"Just living is not enough," said the butterfly, "one must have sunshine, freedom and a little flower." ~Hans Christian Anderson


  1. I can't wait to show this one to my daughter later.
    I'm so happy that you share your magical world with us!

  2. Awww, we used to raise a couple batches of these guys every year when I was little. They almost always came out black, I only remember one yellow. Ours where laid in the dill growing in the garden, and boy did they stink if you spooked them into popping there little orange antenna out! Haha, I miss them!

  3. Thanks for your comments!
    HArmnonekyndcreations, If you gathered your caterpillars from dill they were Black swallowtails, not the Eastern Tiger Swallowtails. Which is probably why they always came out black. :) The black swallowtails and the Dark form of the Eastern Tiger Swallowtails look very similar. :) They eat different host plants though, the Black swallowtails are typically found on carrots, dill, parsley and Queen Anne's Lace. Host foods for the Eastern Tiger Swallowtails include, Black Cherry, Yellow Poplar, Sassafrass, Willow and American Elm. The caterpillar look very different too. The Black Swallow tail caterpillars are green with black and yellow stripes, while the Eastern Tiger Swallow tails are solid green with eye spots, though they turn brown right before pupating.