Criteria for Judging Chrysalis Viability?

jmcat(5)May 27, 2011

This year was my first to have overwintering chrysalises (three Papilio multicaudata and one P. polyxenes), and I brought these back indoors from their winter quarters on Wednesday. However, I am wondering how I might tell whether they are still alive. Two of the chrysalises look the same as they did last fall, and are still flexible in their abdominal segments, as healthy chrysalises should be. So, I figure that they're fine. The P. polyxenes chrysalis is a green form chrysalis, and it still feels alive, but the joints between its abdominal segments are in their expanded position (per the bendy straw effect), and I can see a brown coloration that I am not used to under the softer skin of the joints. So, I don't know what to think of this chrysalis. The third P. multicaudata chrysalis I'm fairly sure is dead. It does not look healthy --- it's darker in color than it was last year, it feels like it's had rigor mortis set in, and the skin looks different than normal, like it is weathered and rough, and almost like it is peeling slightly. Also, there were several small insects (looked similar to thrips) running around in the enclosure outside that seemed to be congregated to some extent around this chrysalis.

Currently, I have the first three chrysalises in a cage together, and the fourth separated. My questions are as follows:

1. Is it worth keeping the third P. multicaudata chrysalis around just in case it is not dead, or would you guys recommend just getting rid of it?

2. What are your thoughts on the P. polyxenes chrysalis? I suspect it's still alive, but I don't know. Would it be a good idea to separate it from the other chrysalises?



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jrcagle(z7 MD)

Definitely separate it; but keep up hope for a while. Swallowtails can take a while -- we've even heard tell of about a year before eclosure.

Multicaudata, huh? They used to be common at my grandparents' house near Lubbock, TX. As a lad, I thought Tiger Swallowtails looked like that!


    Bookmark   May 28, 2011 at 8:57AM
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misssherry(Z8/9SE MS)

If they look healthy, chances are they ARE healthy. I had a batch of black swallowtails last year, in late summer, I think it was, from which all but three emerged last year. None emerged in early spring when black swallowtail "over-winterers" normally emerge, but one finally emerged a few weeks ago. It was a small, but beautiful, male. One of the remaining chrysalides has a crack down its back, so I'm sure it's dead - it looks to have tried to emerge, but couldn't. The other one looks okay. I once had a black swallowtail emerge after 18 months, so they can sometimes take a LONG time!

    Bookmark   May 28, 2011 at 9:07AM
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Thanks for the recommendations. This past year was my first to find immature multicaudata, but I have to say that other than the sheer volume of food they eat, they are the easiest of the species of caterpillars I have raised.


    Bookmark   May 31, 2011 at 1:19PM
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What you are describing, lack of flexibility and the "thrips" sounds like classic chalcid wasp parasitism. If you decide to keep them, place them in an enclosure that the wasps cannot escape. These are the size of fruit flies or smaller. So, it has to be almost air tight. A tall plastic container with some branches inside will work. If you brought these inside from your garden, it is not too much of a concern. However, if you brought these from somewhere else, you may be introducing these wasps to your garden. They occur naturally but may not be in your general area.
Good luck,

    Bookmark   May 31, 2011 at 3:35PM
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I now have both of the suspect chrysalises isolated from the healthy ones and from each other, and I will watch for anything abnormal. I haven't yet decided whether to keep the one P. multicaudata chrysalis or get rid of it, but these are from my garden, so I shouldn't be introducing anything either way.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2011 at 11:09AM
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The first P. multicaudata eclosed this morning! At this point, the two chrysalises that were suspect are definitely dead, so I will only have one more to eclose.

    Bookmark   June 21, 2011 at 1:01PM
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