Mystery cocoon

ShadowMothAugust 1, 2012

I hope it's okay if I post here to ask about a cocoon I found and not so much a matter of raising butterflies.

I live in northern-central PA (basically right on the border of PA and NY) and I'm used to seeing only two kinds of caterpillars around here:white fuzzy ones (which I think become gypsy moths) and really thick, furry brown-and-black ones. No idea what their actual names are.

But recently, I found a caterpillar stuck to a bush that was hairless, bright green, one end was wider than the other (I think the head was larger), and it had two lines of tiny yellow dots down its back. It didn't move for days, but then I checked on it and it was in sort of a half-cocoon stage. The caterpillar itself was maybe an inch long, maybe a little longer.

So I took the stick it was on and (gently) stuck it in a jar that I filled with leaves and grass and such because, hey, who doesn't like a furnished room? Anyway, this cocoon is about an inch long, has two little horns on its head, the underside and head are covered in silk while the back and tail still look exposed (I see segments of the body and little yellow ridges along the back). One side of the cocoon looks like it has a wet spot, but there is no water or moisture in the jar. I think that was where the strands of silk were that suspended the cocoon from its stick.

I thought maybe it was dead, but it occasionally wags its ail at me. Right now I've got it propped upright at about a 45 degree angle against some grass and leaves.

I have not the faintest idea what this thing will turn into or if it's even going to live since it fell off its branch. I have never seen a green caterpillar around here and I can't find any pictures that.

Does anyone know what I might have found? I will post a picture once I can find where I stuck my camera.

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..."and really thick, furry brown-and-black ones": a fairly good description of the woolly bear caterpillar. The brown is usually more rust-red.

The small green caterpillar might be some kind of geometrid moth, hard to tell without a photo.

    Bookmark   August 2, 2012 at 11:37PM
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Here's a picture of the aforementioned mystery cocoon (I apologize if the quality isn't so hot - my camera is pretty lousy). There's a penny there for size comparison - this little guy isn't very big.

I also notice some days it never moves and other days (like a couple days ago), it wags its tail at me a lot. When I took this shot, it only moved once and I was sliding it all over the sink top. But a couple days ago, if I moved its jar even a tiny bit, it was violently wagging its tail. Strange.

Thoughts? What you see is the top of the cocoon - the bottom is covered in silk.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2012 at 3:01AM
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NaturesFolly(West MI 5)

Lucky you! it looks like a Black Swallowtail to me

Here is a link that might be useful: Pupa of Black Swallowtail

    Bookmark   August 5, 2012 at 6:16AM
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Ooo, thanks for the info, NaturesFolly! From the info you sent, I'd say Black Swallowtail is a winner. :)

I'm also relieved to see that the half-silk half-caterpillar look it has going on seems to be normal and that I didn't interrupt its creation of a cocoon.

I've never actually seen one of these butterflies around here ever. The most I ever see is the occasional yellow butterfly or monarch, and those are a rare sight where I live. According to that site, they like to lay eggs on parsley and if that's true, this one sure crawled a long way before creating a cocoon. Where I found it is pretty far away from the parsley in the yard.

I'm wondering now if this would be considered a "late summer" butterfly and if I'll need to keep it over the winter. Should I attempt to suspend it from a branch in its jar or will it be able to get out of its cocoon if it's laying on a handful of grass?

Also, thanks to larry gene for identification of the furry caterpillars. Those are definitely the ones I occasionally see in the backyard in the fall (for some reason, they really seem to like being in the sand too).

    Bookmark   August 5, 2012 at 4:15PM
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bernergrrl(z5 IL)

Hi there--Congratulations on your swallowtail! Since the chrysalis is green, it will most likely emerge this summer. Swallowtail chrysalises need to hang from their harnesses a certain way for the butterfly to emerge correctly. I think people leave fallen swallowtail chrysalises on their sides so the butterfly can climb up and hang from something to dry its wings properly.

Take care!

    Bookmark   August 8, 2012 at 8:00AM
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I do believe my cocoon is in the home stretch now, for when I woke up and checked on it today, it changed from green to transparent. I can easily see black wings with orange dots underneath. Yay! It's not dead! In fact, it was wagging around a lot today.

Hopefully this means within the next few hours, I will have a butterfly. Will show pics if I can get decent shots. Right now, I've got the cocoon secured to a stick with dental floss, suspended from a hole in the jar lid. Also, there's a little nest of grass and leaves on the bottom of the jar.

    Bookmark   August 13, 2012 at 3:37AM
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Well what do you know? Today I changed my cocoon's grass/leaves and removed it from its stick...and added a couple sticks to the jar just in case. Imagine my surprise about a half hour later, finding the butterfly having emerged!

The only bad thing was it had major trouble finding a stick, and when I found it, it was flailing around on its back. I immediately took it outside, gently removed it from the jar, tossed out the grass, and let it latch onto the lid to hang upside down in hopes its wings would unfold.

Alas, the damage has been done. As you can see from the photo, its wings ended up drying all screwy. I don't think it's going to be able to fly, though it tried pretty hard to do so. :(

Thanks again for everyone's great advice.

    Bookmark   August 13, 2012 at 11:46PM
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JessicaBe(5-6 Central Ohio)

awww poor thing!

    Bookmark   August 15, 2012 at 4:03PM
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