Pour yourself a cup of coffee and prepare to fall in love again. I’ve been sooooo excited to share my diary of a certain cute spicebush swallowtail caterpillar. If you followed my butterfly stories last summer, you might remember that I was a bit obsessed with raising butterflies on the back porch. I successfully released 50 butterflies—44 monarchs and 6 eastern black swallowtails.
And, at the end of the season, after the last monarch had headed to Mexico where they hibernate for winter, two spicebush swallowtail chrysalises lagged behind, still in the chrysalis stage.
So here’s my diary of a spicebush swallowtail caterpillar. Two caterpillars, actually.
September 12, 2021:
Do you remember these guys? Like a proud mother, I plastered their pictures all over social media. Spicebush swallowtail caterpillars are so stinking cute, they look like Pixar creatures! Their false eye spots (for deterring predators) give them such a wide-eyed innocent look.
Here they are munching away on spicebush leaves.
Unlike the monarch whose only host plant is milkweed, the spicebush swallowtail caterpillar will eat and lay eggs on the following host plants:
- red bay, Persea borbonia
- swamp bay, Persea palustris
- sassafras, Sassafras albidum
- spicebush, Lindera benzoin (this is what we have)
- southern spicebush, Lindera melissifolia
- camphortree, Cinnamomum camphora (Exotic — from Asia, Invasive)
But since Spicebush is their favorite, we planted four a few years ago. They are hard to see in the next picture, but they are growing all along the garage.
September 14, 2021:
Just before turning into chrysalises, they turn yellow-orange.
September 16, 2021:
It happened so fast. I blinked and two chrysalises had formed inside one of my mesh butterfly houses. One formed near the top of the enclosure and the other formed in the bottom on the newspaper liner (which I moved to the side so it would hang). A chrysalis needs to hang so wings develop properly.
October 15, 2021
I’m a little slow, but I finally realized these guys weren’t in any hurry to turn into butterflies. Since all my other monarch butterflies had been released by this time, I moved the two spicebush chrysalises into my wooden butterfly hotel so I could disinfect and closed up the mesh hotels for the season. The wooden hotel is smaller and sturdy—I thought it would probably be a better winter home for them.
Soooo, the spicebush swallowtail chrysalises spent their days and nights on the back porch while the rest of our year played out.
Fall came to Fayetteville in all her glory.
Gracie celebrated her first birthday.
Our neighborhood had a visit from the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile (trust me, it was a big deal).
Our family celebrated several birthdays, plus the holidays blurred by.
I was invited to speak at the Arkansas Farm Bureau Annual Conference (another big deal for me).
We rang in the new year in grand style.
January 16, 2022:
First big snow of the season! It was mighty chilly on the back porch, but the hotel was protected from weather. I hoped Mother Nature knew what she was doing because I was basically just winging it. (I did constantly re-affix the tape.)
February 3, 2022:
More snow. I didn’t take a picture of the chrysalises but hoped they were still okay on the back porch.
March 29, 2022:
After another snow in early March, we made it to the end of the month. Spring began teasing us with warmer weather. Tired of constantly re-attaching the masking tape, I replaced it with duct tape. Things were about to get serious. Or at least that was my hope.
April 1, 2022:
April Fool’s Day! I was still keeping an eye on my spicebush chrysalises, but I suspected John worried over my sanity.
April 15, 2022:
♫ Sunshine on my chrysalises makes me happy ♫.
Me: John, please keep an eye on my chrysalises while I’m out of town.
John: Okay. (He humors me ☺.)
I was gone for ten days. Yes, I wondered how my chrysalises were surviving. (If they emerged while I was gone, I would be bummed to miss it! If they really weren’t viable, I would be even more bummed.)
May 1, 2022:
Happy May Day!
I danced a little jig on the back porch when I saw this beauty drying her wings. When friends came that afternoon, I showed her off to everyone. Later that afternoon, I released her into the back yard. She crawled onto my finger and fluttered away without a glance back. Her metamorphosis certainly took a long time, yet she will only live 6-12 days. I hope during her time here she lays a few eggs on our spicebushes. (I think I saw her yesterday!)
May 8, 2022
Happy Mother’s Day!
Mothers come in all shapes and sizes and varieties. I am still over the moon happy that one of our spicebush butterflies emerged after overwintering on our back porch. Now, I am hopeful the second spicebush butterfly will emerge soon. I suspect he’s waiting for this week’s forecasted warm sunny weather.
Don’t stop believing in goodness and beauty and everyday miracles. Believing is the first step toward any transformation, small or large. And life’s small blessings sometimes turn out to be some of the very best ones.
Grace Grits and Gardening
Farm. Food. Garden. Life.