My Science Experiment

Raising Black Swallowtail Butterflies
in my Living room :)

It all started  went outside to pick some fresh parsley for my salad as I usually do... 
but instead of  finding my beautiful, lush green parsley plant... I found that in the last 
few days my plant was attacked by about 50 little black and orange and green 
and yellow caterpillars who had stripped the leaves on every stem!

A quick check on the internet and I found half the answers I was looking for.  This was obviously the larva of a Black Swallowtail Butterfly.  And I had a flashback to a few years ago when I raised a few in my pool cage when my grand daughter was visiting. 
You can find the entire photo story here.

But what in the world was this?  I couldn't find it listed anywhere.

As it turns out... it's the same caterpillar... only the younger version of the large black and yellow one.  So I have to assume the coloring helps them to hide when they are smaller... 
as they would probably have more enemies.

Actually, it would only take one bird... one lizard... or one small nest of wasps 
to find them and they could be totally wiped out in a day... 

So, because I like butterflies... I decided to help them continue on their journey.  I went out and purchased a few new pots of parsley at  Gulf Breeze Garden Center, 1200 N. Indiana Ave., Englewood, Florida  and then cleaned out an old 20 gallon fish tank... and built them a lush little caterpillar condo. 
Adding a couple of pieces of driftwood... I'm offering them a place to stop and make the change from caterpillar to butterfly without leaving the relative safety of my living room.

After about a hour of finding the largest ones from the outside plant, I moved them into their new condo... and they took to it quietly and continued their munching uninterrupted.

Except for this one large one that decided to go for a long walk and explore the entire tank. 
And when he reached the end of the driftwood...
he streeeeeetttched himself out looking for options...
 and then finally grabbed hold of the extra parsley plant I had sitting nearby.

Putting him back in the tank I learned that the black swallowtail caterpillar has an orange "forked gland", called the osmeterium.  When in danger, the osmeterium, which looks like a snake's tongue, emits and releases a foul smell to repel predators. 

He did this every time I touched him :)

And then he found a comfortable place where he is forced to stop and create a tiny thread to use as a support hammock and take his last breath as a caterpillar while his nature decides the next step in his evolution.
In less than 24 hours... the caterpillar above transforms into the completely camouflaged chrysalis that completely takes over their body without them doing anything but sitting still.


In the next few days... they all started doing the same thing... 
Lining up and attaching themselves to the driftwood I provided.

Eight Day Later

The first of 12 chrysalis opens and this beautiful creature emerges
A few awkward moments finding a place to stop and dry it's 
beautiful new wet wings... as they keep falling over from side to side
Finally... a place to stop and pump the liquids from its body 
into its wing structure
And then on with it's climb to higher ground...
The wings are still soft and wet and folded
But they keep developing as he walks upside down

He finds a comfortable perch at the edge of the driftwood 
and sits still for several moments as his body fluids fill the veins in his wings and he develops into an adult butterfly.

And then...

It's time to try his wings and fly... and he sours towards the window light but drops quickly... and falls to the floor. 

I offer him my hand... And I can't stop thinking... 
"What a lovely creature..." as I put him back onto the driftwood... 
and he tries to fly again and again but can't quite reach the window

  So I thought maybe Yoda and  "The Force" might help him learn

" Do or do not... there is not try "

It must have worked, because after a few more attempts... he flies around the room for a moment and then back to the window where he slams into the glass and falls down onto the curtain rod and rests...  I am now sure that it's "time" for him to go.  (before he hurts himself)
I offer my finger again and he climbs right on... Cupping him gently with both hands I walk out the door.  It is time for him go. 
But is he ready to fly? 

Once outside, I quickly pass him off to my friend Marie 
who I invited to release the first born.

She raises her hand and the butterfly slowly walks to the tip of her finger and she holds it still for over a minute offering this Black Swallowtail the opportunity to be free and be the beautiful, fluttering butterfly he was meant to be. 

He takes off and flutters around in a circle... but then finally crashes (not so delicately) into my chest... so I pass off the camera to Marie and ask that she take a few shots of this new situation.
It's fun to be touched so gently by such a gorgeous, delicate creature
as he begins again to climb to the highest point

Finally he reaches the top of my head and flies away erratically and clings to the beautiful yellow cassia flower a few yards away where he gets to smell of fresh buttered popcorn scent that this plant is known for.
When I approach for a picture... he sees the movement and spreads his wings wide... and I quickly try to capture some good photo's of his colorful wings on this beautiful natural background.

Again... we offer him the opportunity to be free... 
and he finally decides it is time to go.

And watching him flutter off into his new life...  makes me smile :)



Butterfly Number 2

The next morning I get up early to hopefully get a picture of one of the butterflies being born... but I'm a few minutes late and as I step into the living room I see this one clinging to his now empty chrysalis.

Notice how fat he is at this point when he's only a few minutes old.


He doesn't walk around as much as the first one... and just stays still as he and gravity pump the fluids from his body into his wings. 

Ten minutes later... I move to another angle to change the background and my motion frightens him... and he instinctually opens his wings wide and holds them there, probably as a defense mechanism to show me how big he is.

I decide to bring in a houseplant to use as a prop 
And the lush green and pretty pink really seem to work well with all the natural colors of this beautiful little creature.


While the butterfly is still drying... I call a neighbor that is very into butterflies and offer her the opportunity to stop over and set one of 
the newborns free.

Outside the colors on his wings are just so fresh and new and perfect

I look around for something to use and a background and offer the opportunity for him to pose for me with my backyard flag.

Then over to the cassia again before he takes off and flies away


Butterfly Number 3 & 4

Now that I know what to expect from these little critters, I decide to convert my living room into a butterfly studio... where maybe I can get them to pose before they are ready to fly.

I hadn't noticed that one of the caterpillars that I "thought" I had locked into the fish tank condo must have gotten out and attached himself under the electrical plug under the front window.

And while sitting there in the early morning light, watching all the chrysalis attached to the the driftwood... waiting for the next one to emerge... 
this little fella comes out of his chrysalis under the electrical plug and falls to the floor under the window.
Looking at it crawling on the floor, I was confused about
"What the heck is that...?  and if it's a butterfly...
"How the heck did it get way over there"... 
when I was watching them all so intently hoping to photograph one coming out of its shell.   A closer look verified it was in deed a baby butterfly and  I quickly pick it up and tried to get a few good photos of this tiny little unfolding creature.
You would never guess that this "thing" would very soon 
become a beautiful butterfly

I place it on the driftwood and it finds a nice place to stop 
and begin the transformation.

It only takes about an hour to inflate the wings to their full adult size.

Talk about growing up fast ! 

But I'm sure it's all part of natures way of helping them to survive.  This little creature would have little to no chance of survival around here if it fell in front of one of the many lizards, birds or frogs that live in my garden.

A dim yellow lamp shade offers a great background light... 
and makes for a pretty unique silhouette 
without the flash.

With my new studio set up... I try a few creative things as it dries its wings.  A cutting from my aloe plant that is blooming in the front yard combined with a painting from the living room wall create a great 3-D effect.

A little more rearranging... and I get what I'm looking for :) 
Perfect light, composition and background !

While I'm photographing that one... another much smaller one emerges from its chrysalis and joins the photo shoot. 

My friend Bobbi Rodgers from Cedar Point Environmental park had called me earlier and asked if she could stop by for a peek before she went to work and she got the opportunity to meet and handle a couple of the new critters.

Notice the difference in the size and colors of the wings.
With a little research,  I found that the large colorful one is the male 
and the darker less colorful one was a female. 



Butterfly Number 5

Butterfly Number 5 is a sad story.  In the photo above you can see that while this little guy was trying to pull himself out of his chrysalis... the chrysalis broke off and he was unable to pull himself out of the grasp it had around it's body.  The white liquid is the life blood of this butterfly which is supposed to be pumping into its wings right now... but with the chrysalis still wrapped around its body the fluid just spurts out of it's tail and onto the ground.

I waited a few minutes to see if he could naturally pull himself from its grasp, but once I saw the fluids draining from its body I decided to intervene and operate on the little critter with two small pairs of tweezers that I used to tear the old chrysalis away from its body...

But it was too late.  The damage had been done.  He hung upside down as he shoud...
but the fluids that would be required to fill its wings were gone... 

As you might do for any friend... I offered it a few minutes of beauty and relaxation by
giving it refuge on a flower that it would never have the opportunity to find on its own.... 
He lived there for two days before he expired  :(


Butterfly Number 6

Butterfly number 6 was another small female, and she grew up very quickly.  I still felt a bit sad about Butterfly number 5, and didn't want to risk interacting with her too soon... so let her sit for almost 20 minutes before I tried to place her on a different background.  But she let me know right away that she was "ready to go" and I didn't get to photograph her at all before she was off and flying all around the room.

But she did stop just long enough to make 
a very pretty little butterfly broach...

An excellent little butterfly tattoo

And a very colorful butterfly hairpin...
before I took her outside and turned her loose  :)


Butterfly Number 7

But Butterfly Number Seven made up for the past couple of days in the way of great photos when I combined the next butterfly born with this gorgeous flower arrangement from Stevens the Florist and this beautiful acrylic painting of a colorful mountain meadow by Marie Young 

It was almost as good as being there.




Butterfly Number 8

I took Butterfly Number 8 on vacation and 
he found himself on an old piece of driftwood at the beach




Butterfly Number 9

Butterfly Number 9 hatched much earlier than the rest and was already quite "ready to go" when I found him at 7:30 am already dry and waiting for me to put him outside. 

One quick photo to record his coloration... 

before taking him outside and allowing another visiting friend 
and butterfly lover to set him free

Last I saw of him, she was hugging the bottom of a cassia branch :)


Moral of the Story

The Black Swallowtail Butterfly is the state butterfly of Oklahoma.

P.S.  As I said... there were 12 chrysalis that formed... but only 9 have hatched since it began back in November... and these 3 remain.  Studies show that they have a choice of being born in 10 - 15 days... or they have the option of waiting for Spring :)  Interesting that nature should give them such a choice.  So here it is the end of  March and these 3 have not yet hatched.  So I'm assuming that they decided to wait until spring and that I will wake up and find them flying around the livingroom some morning.   What a pleasant surprise that would be.  We shall see :)

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In the morning of my last day I just wanted to visit the butterfly conservancy in town and get a few more pictures.  This is the Morfo Azul.... or Blue Morpho butterfly.  Interesting because it has a very  beautiful brown bottom and an even more beautiful Azur Blue Top.
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