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HERE'S A SWALLOWTAIL MOM LAYING HER EGGS


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The first step in the process to a butterfly!

I had never actually seen a live Swallowtail butterfly up close until we put the Pipevines outside. I have no idea where it came from, but within a short time we had a visitor. It seemed very interested in this new plant. I could see it from the window and watched it dart off several times and come back again before I realized it was a female laying eggs . At first we thought it was a Pipevine Swallowtail but it was actually a Polydamas Swallowtail. Honestly, I really didn't care what it was called. It had laid eggs on our plant and we were going to be able to watch the whole life-cycle

If you look closely at the picture on the right, you can actually see an egg starting to be placed on the plant. Unlike the Monarchs, the Swallowtail will lay groups of 10 to 40 eggs on one plant. When the butterfly arches her abdomen, she is ready to lay eggs.

THIS MARKS THE FIRST OF SEVERAL DANGERS FROM PREDATORS


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The butterfly mom knows how to protect those eggs

The laying of the eggs creates the first of many dangers to the successful evolving of those eggs through the next few stages... actually the most dangerous of all... the eating of the eggs by hornets and wasps. What's really amazing is that very often, the wasps and hornets notice the female laying the eggs and fly only a few inches behind her to eat the eggs. The butterfly mom will chase the predator off...

...then fly back to the plant to continue... is then followed once again by that hornet or wasp... and then she chases them with a much more agressive attitude which usually keeps them going away. That, however, does not mean that they won't come back after she's gone and try again. That is why I will cut off the leaves with eggs and bring them in... or sometimes just bring the plant inside or put it in one of my protective "caterpillar castles"



SWALLOWTAIL BABY CATERPILLARS LIKE TO STAY IN GROUPS


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Now, this is a close-knit family of kiddoes!

As you can see in the previous picture of the eggs which were laid in a kind of organized group... the new baby swallowtail caterpillars will stay in that kind of military formation-style group as seen here in this photo as they move around their Pipevine plant.

It's Really Quite Amazing to Watch!

The fact is that, they will stay together like that for most of their time until they are quite large... ...nearly full-grown. Even then they will remain close, sometimes crawling over one another on the way to another meal of plant leaves and close to the time when each of them will form their own chrysalis.

It's just another special thing about these wonderful Swallowtail caterpillars and butterflies.






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full-grown Swallowtail caterpillar ready to form Chrysalis



After nearly defoliating a couple of pretty good size Pipevine plants, that group of 9 has grown into full-size caterpillars approximately two inches or so long and nearly a half inch wide. At this size the Swallowtail is also quite "the wanderer". When we first started raising the butterflies inside the screened area we had to train ourselves to not walk around without looking to make sure we didn't step on one of them. If they get to wander because we didn't get them into a caterpillar castle soon enough... we can find them just about anywhere....

...for instance: we have found them on the top of our front door up near the top hinge... on some of the artificial plants we have decorating the walled area inside the screened room. They actually like to hang their chrysalises on those... likely because they can be stronger places to hang them.






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