Off Topic...unusual visitor to the garden

kaboehm (zone 9a, TX USA)June 28, 2014

This is chapter 2 of the "happy bees" posting... Having to do with a healthy yard. It's not related to Hippeastrum, so skip it if you aren't interested!!

I was trimming my Navel N-33 orange tree yesterday and found the most unusual caterpillar I've ever seen. Online it's described as looking like a bird dropping, and I have to agree it does look like a big bird poop. Others say it looks like a snake...apparently it has a bright red tongue that is forked (not sure if it's really a tongue) and it omits a horrible stench when threatened, which thankfully I haven't experienced yet.

It's a caterpillar from a giant swallowtail butterfly. I've been out looking for more, but only found the one. They can really strip the leaves off of an orange tree. My tree is big enough to withstand the assault, and I'm more interested in protecting the caterpillar!

See the link below for photos of the butterfly and the "bird poo" caterpillar!
K Edited to add photo

Here is a link that might be useful: Life cycle of the Giant Swallowtail

This post was edited by kaboehm on Sun, Jul 6, 14 at 8:37

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jodik_gw

Interestingly, its official name is "Papilio cresphontes Cramer"... imagine that, something else with the name "Papilio"! :-)

Very cool, Kristi... thanks for sharing that! I hope you get a chance to see it as a butterfly, too!

    Bookmark   June 28, 2014 at 9:57AM
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kaboehm (zone 9a, TX USA)

Yep, I noticed the name too. Imagine that!!!
K

    Bookmark   June 28, 2014 at 2:42PM
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jodik_gw

I'm not a huge fan of bugs and crawly things, but I guess I need to get used to them... the grandkids are always catching something to show us... yesterday, they had a little green grasshopper they were enthusiastically watching! Today, they'll probably find something different!

    Bookmark   June 29, 2014 at 9:16AM
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kaboehm (zone 9a, TX USA)

Well...said caterpillar has started weaving/spinning (knitting/crocheting?) it's cocoon!! ð It stopped eating late yesterday and was moving towards the branches I put in the terrarium.

I wonder if I could donate it to the Butterfly Center at the Natural Science Museum? I'd hate to think of it getting eaten by a bird.
K

    Bookmark   July 1, 2014 at 7:51AM
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jodik_gw

Call them and ask... if they say no, no harm done and you might get to see it turn into that butterfly... if they say yes, the birds won't get him!

    Bookmark   July 1, 2014 at 10:11AM
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kaboehm (zone 9a, TX USA)

I called the entomologist prior to Jodi's response. So glad my idea didn't sound too far out. They don't have other Giant Swallowtails, so it would never get to find a mate, etc. Since this butterfly species lay their eggs in orange trees, I'll release it in the orange tree and let nature do its thing. I only found the caterpillar because it was on part of the tree that I had pruned.

It's spun a cocoon and now just 6-10 days til it hatches.
K

    Bookmark   July 2, 2014 at 7:25AM
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jodik_gw

Well, at least you'll get to see transformation into that butterfly!

    Bookmark   July 2, 2014 at 7:56AM
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dondeldux

Should be exciting to see it emerge, hope it doesn't decide to do it in the middle of the night..âºâº

    Bookmark   July 2, 2014 at 8:04AM
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jodik_gw

Right! It would be my luck I'd miss it!

I hope you actually get to see it, though... it should be highly interesting!

    Bookmark   July 3, 2014 at 9:54AM
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gyr_falcon(Sunset 23 USDA 9)

-->It's spun a cocoon and now just 6-10 days til it hatches.Nice find! But don't be surprised if it takes much, much longer. Mine were left in the garden, on their choisya host plant; it took 5-6 months before the butterflies emerged.

    Bookmark   July 5, 2014 at 2:16PM
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kaboehm (zone 9a, TX USA)

Two sites gave roughly the same timeframe for hatching: 6-10 and 10-12 days. Wiki said:
"The chrysalis stage is variable but usually takes approximately 10 to 12 days, although in the fall they may stay in the chrysalis stage over winter and emerge in the spring."

Maybe yours took longer because they overwintered. I'm hoping for sooner rather than later!
K

    Bookmark   July 5, 2014 at 6:02PM
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gyr_falcon(Sunset 23 USDA 9)

If you are keeping yours inside, that may be the case. I just wanted to let you know that under some conditions they can decide to sit for a long period of time without emerging, yet remain healthy. SoCal had an even milder what-passes-for-winter than usual, and mine waited until the night lows were 55 degrees F for more than a month before they emerged in late May.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2014 at 4:43PM
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kaboehm (zone 9a, TX USA)

The entomologist from the butterfly center called me yesterday. Erin was extremely helpful. She said that the butterfly should hatch out soon, typically within 1 to 2 weeks during the summer months. The warmer they are kept the faster they hatch, but to watch that it's not being kept too hot! (It's inside where it's 78F; the back porch is 110F!)

She confirmed that they don't have any giant swallowtails at the butterfly center. If I released my butterfly there it would live a very lonely and unfulfilled life. She said that they don't have any native species in the butterfly center.

The giant swallowtails are very large and she said not prone to being eaten by birds. Through the use of pheromones, if I let it go in my backyard, it would likely find a mate and live a good life. Since they drink nectar, it would go on the search for flowers. She said it would even likely feed at my hummingbird feeder. I'll just let it go near where I found it with hopes that other eggs hatched and other butterflies will be hatching soon and the story will have a happy ending!

Photos will follow when the hatching occurs.
K

    Bookmark   July 8, 2014 at 10:17PM
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kaboehm (zone 9a, TX USA)

I think we're getting close to the big reveal! I know I had previously posted that the chrysalis could hatch in 6 to 10 days, but that was posted on a site where you could buy pupated caterpillars, and I wonder if they meant 6 to 10 days after you receive it from them. Another site said 17 to 20 days. Tomorrow is day 17. Both sites said the chrysalis would darken considerably about 24 hours prior to hatching. I woke up this morning to a very dark chrysalis. I'm really hopeful this all goes well!
K

    Bookmark   July 16, 2014 at 7:21AM
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jodik_gw

I think as long as nothing disturbs the cocoon, it should hatch just fine... can't wait to see its occupant!

    Bookmark   July 16, 2014 at 9:57AM
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kaboehm (zone 9a, TX USA)

It's in a terrarium with nothing else and plent of clearance to emerge and stretch its wings.

I had to take it out to clean the bottom (just dump out old leaves and catepillar poop...and prop up the branch to give the butterfly more room/clearance.

K

    Bookmark   July 16, 2014 at 10:26AM
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kaboehm (zone 9a, TX USA)

And with that.... He was gone!
He was flying north before I could even get a photo!
K

    Bookmark   July 16, 2014 at 7:33PM
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dondeldux

OMG!! He's beautiful and you did get a photo didn't you? At least he's perfectly formed and gets to do his thing in his special life as a butterfly thanks to you!! Congratulationsâºâºâº

    Bookmark   July 16, 2014 at 8:26PM
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jodik_gw

Ooh! Lovely, Kristi! :-)

Look at the nice patterning... especially at the wing ends! Just beautiful!

I bet you're almost sorry to see him, or her, go... but perhaps a new generation will call your yard home!

    Bookmark   July 20, 2014 at 8:31AM
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kaboehm (zone 9a, TX USA)

The butterfly garden forum listers, where I cross posted, have confirmed that me calling the caterpillar a male was correct. Identifying the sexes has something to do with the width of the "bar".

Anyway, he was on a mission! Pheromones are an inborn signal and his urge to find a mate was strong. People on the butterfly garden forum said they tend to return to where they were born to mate and lay eggs. I hope he can convince his mate to return to my backyard!
K

    Bookmark   July 20, 2014 at 9:45AM
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jodik_gw

That would be nice, indeed, to watch the generations go through their various stages, knowing they are helpful in pollinating things they like in your yard!

    Bookmark   July 21, 2014 at 10:03AM
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kaboehm (zone 9a, TX USA)

My GST brought his girlfriend "home" today. Looks like we're "expecting"!
K

    Bookmark   August 31, 2014 at 8:38PM
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blancawing

Congratulations!

    Bookmark   September 1, 2014 at 1:39AM
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kaboehm (zone 9a, TX USA)

Well that was easy! When I woke up this morning and I checked on the eggs five had already hatched! In fact, in the photo, if you look at the bottom leaf, (on the far right) there's a baby giant swallowtail. They are teeny tiny!!

    Bookmark   September 1, 2014 at 8:45AM
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dondeldux

How exciting!!

    Bookmark   September 1, 2014 at 9:08AM
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janartmuse

This was the most fantastic "off topic' I've seen! Maybe don't prune your tree so much any more and let the caterpillars have at it! So exciting! Janine

    Bookmark   September 6, 2014 at 1:02PM
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