Black Swallowtail, Tiger Swallowtail and Monarch Caterpillars

black swallowtail, monarch, tiger swallowtail caterpillars

This summer is the first time I run into all three caterpillars in the backyard.

A couple hundred milkweeds means monarch eggs and caterpillars are somewhere out there. Seemed like I was tripping over them in July. Hope this is reflected in the monarch butterfly population.

Finding black and tiger swallowtail eggs or caterpillars is iffy. I didn’t find any eggs. These swallowtail caterpillars just showed up! A second instar tiger swallowtail caterpillar sat out in the open on a weed wild cherry. A new fifth instar black swallowtail caterpillar sat on a large Queen Anne’s Lace while I was cutting off seed heads.

It’s August 29th. Monarch butterflies won’t stick around. My guess is the swallowtail caterpillars will hibernate as chrysalises until spring, 2016.

black swallowtail, monarch, and tiger swallowtail caterpillars

Update: The tiger swallowtail caterpillar became a butterfly in Sep 2015. The black swallowtail caterpillar became a female butter on April 12, 2016.

Additional 2016 Images

Younger black and tiger swallowtail caterpillars

2nd and 3rd instar black swallowtail caterpillars circles in red. 3rd and 4th instar monarch caterpillars circled in black.

Younger black swallowtail and monarch caterpillars

, , , , , ,


Can butterflies (and moths) other than monarchs be infected with OE?

I’ve noticed that whenever a butterfly, monarch or not, is deformed, people think OE is likely the cause. I raised plenty of “bad” monarch butterflies but there were other factors that made me seriously doubt they were infected with OE (Ophryocystis elektroscirrha).

Last year, I joined Monarch Health, run by the Odum School of Ecology at the University of Georgia in Athens, GA, to see whether the monarch butterflies that I raised were infected with OE. Thirty were tested, including two that were deformed/malformed. All were clean!

When the question about the link between any butterfly/moth deformity and OE infection came up again a few days ago, I emailed the researchers at Monarch Health. Here is the reply:


There are a couple other species (I know the Queen Butterfly is one) in the same genus as the monarch that we think are susceptible to OE, however work going on in our lab at the moment suggests the possibility that its a different “strain” or type of OE. I believe its only three species including the monarch.

As for other butterflies, there are numerous types of pathogens they can get that can cause physical deformities.

Hope this helps!


, , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

Raising Monarchs 2014: Brief Summary

It was a very very busy monarch butterfly season here. I gave away over 100 caterpillars and eggs because I didn’t think I had the room and food to raise them. A batch of 34 caterpillars/pupae/butterflies were “wrong” and went to the freezer. The last 2 good butterflies were released on September 20th. The final release was a female with split proboscis on September 21st.

Total release count: 222. Female: 98. Male: 124. Not included in the count: 7 with split proboscis and 3 weak ones.

Also not counted:

Little Monarch

I thought the caterpillar was too small to pupate. It did anyway. He enclosed on September 10th. He can’t make his wings fly and his proboscis can’t retract. Still, his legs are strong, he can drink and flap his wings for balance. He currently lives on fruit punch Gatorade (a tip from a fellow monarch butterfly enthusiast, Michelle, who gladly took all my excess caterpillars and eggs), Trader Joe’s Very Green 100% Juice and whatever nectar he gets from the few remaining Joe Pye Weed flowers. So, I’m not quite done with monarch butterfly this year. And, I’m raising a tiger swallowtail caterpillar that came out of the egg on August 11th and is still a caterpillar!

More detail to follow, once I have actual chunks of free time to reflect and organize the images and notes.

, , ,


A few spring 2014 firsts

Columbine flowers

Two winters ago I built the structure as feral cat litter box shelter. The cats have been ignoring it since. I didn’t know a columbine plant was there until its flowers popped up last spring. I barely watered it during summer yet it thrived. More flowers this year and I had to pull the stalks out so they could straighten.

Tiger swallowtail butterfly

I am pretty sure this was not the tiger swallowtail butterfly I released a month and half ago. I am also pretty sure this is a male. My camera was less than 4 inches away and it didn’t care. Female tiger swallowtail butterflies are much more alert and jittery in my experience.

Dead chipmunk

Starting this past winter, my feral cats have been confined for at least 16 hours a day, from about 6pm to late morning. No more walking out the door in the morning to be startled by a dead mouse, rabbit, squirrel, chipmunk, or bird, or parts of the above. Why did this chipmunk enter the confinement? There was no food for it.

Dead chipmunk's teeth

Its teeth were dark yellow. Maybe it was old and got confused?

Bumblebee-like moth

Looks like a bumblebee. Some people call it the hummingbird moth. I always thought the sphinx moth is the hummingbird moth. Iowa State University Sphinx Months pdf fact sheet clears that up.


First flash of orange this year. A monarch butterfly hovering around flower-less milkweeds can only mean one thing- she’s looking for suitable leaves to deposit eggs. 28 found so far. More are likely on hot humid days to come. Feels too soon for me to be so sunburned!

Monarch butterfly egg on milkweed stalk

Monarch butterfly egg on milkweed stalk

I am bad at anything that requires delicate touch, including social situations. First monarch egg challenge of the year- safely removing these two eggs while minimizing damage to the milkweeds.

13 moarch eggs

The other 13 moarch eggs

First poppy

First poppy

First poppy and it was HUGE. Like it was begging to be ruined. Sure enough, a thundery downpour arrived in the early evening. The perfect bloom lasted all of 12 hours or so.

Interesting pattern

Produced by the same thunderstorm that ruined the first poppy.

Interesting pattern

Interesting pattern

I’ve been collecting rainwater runoff from the roofs for more than 20 years. In the last 10 years, sometimes in spring the water has a thick layer of “yellow dust” on top. I eventually realized that the “yellow dust” must be pollen. So much pollen! Let the water sit a few days, interesting patterns begin to form. I remember pollen is electrically charged and water molecule is polar. This is as far as I can go to explain the pattern formation.

, , , , , , ,


Prairie Smoke

Prairie Smoke on May 20, 2014

Last year while looking for false blue indigo at a local garden center, there was this scrawny wildflower that sounded like it would be a drought-resistant native plant. I brought it home and stuck it in the gravel pad.

Prairie Smoke on May 28, 2013

Then, I did a little online research.

Concise version: Prairie Smoke on U of I Extension

Long version: Prairie Smoke. Portions from this are quoted below.

Cultivation: The preference is full sun, mesic to dry conditions, and a barren soil that is rocky, gravelly, or sandy. Young plants should be kept well-watered during hot summer weather as Prairie Smoke is adapted to a somewhat cool northern climate…

Yup. I definitely watered it like crazy last summer.

Competition from taller and more aggressive plants is not tolerated…

How does it not tolerate taller, more aggressive plants? I was really tempted to find out. Still, all plants, except milkweeds, within a 2-feet radius were cut low. Because

Range & Habitat: The native Prairie Smoke is restricted to northern Illinois, where it is uncommon. Elsewhere in the state, it is absent…

Up close on May 07, 2014

Faunal Associations: The flowers are cross-pollinated by bumblebees, which seek primarily nectar from the flowers (personal observation, 2011; Choberka et al., 2000). These insects are strong enough to force their way into the flowers…

Didn’t see any bumblebees doing much around it last year. This year, got lucky.

Bumble bee and smoke prairie flowers

Bumble bee and prairie smoke flower

The bee buzzed loudly. Almost like it was complaining about the exertion to get to the nectar. It definitely worked hard.

The blooming period can occur from early to late spring and lasts about 1-2 months. Afterwards, each flower becomes erect and develops a dense cluster of achenes with long feathery tails…

I suppose achenes is the smoke.

Prairie Smoke on May 12, 2014

Prairie smoke achenes up close

, , , , ,