The Mystery of the Black Swallowtail Butterfly

Black Swallowtail butterfly at Powell Gardens, Lone Jack, Missouri, 2007.

What I thought was a Black Swallowtail butterfly at Powell Gardens, Lone Jack, Missouri, 2007. Rachel (comment below) says it's a Pipevine Swallowtail.

One day a week ago the bronze fennel was teeming with Black Swallowtail caterpillars.  The next day, they were gone.  Where did they go?  Off to the woods forty feet away?  I worried about them struggling through the grass to complete their life cycle.  It’s a dangerous world.  Birds, lawnmowers, children chasing balls, other insects. 

Black Swallowtail.

I thought this was a Black Swallowtail, but Rachel (comment below) says it's the dark morph female of the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail.

Were those caterpillars the last of the year?  I thought so until today when I found a single fairly large caterpillar on the fennel, which was almost chewed clean of leaves.  A tattered looking Black Swallowtail butterfly sailed in and circled the fennel.  I was hoping it would lay some eggs or at least make a nectar stop at a flower. I even had my camera! But the butterfly sailed off again, ignoring my butterfly bush, the phlox, the coneflowers……

Dottie of St. Louis, Missouri, commented on my Monarch Watch post about her certified Monarch waystation.  She follows the process of the Monarchs very closely, photographing them and raising them.  She talks to schoolchildren about the Monarch life cycle. She also “raises” Black Swallowtail caterpillars on fennel and parsley but says a Black Swallowtail chrysalis is very hard to find.

Following the life cycle of a Black Swallowtail has one “hazard” — the caterpillars spray a stinky odor when you touch them. Dottie says her granddaughter doesn’t mind. It makes her giggle. I was slightly tempted to “pet” the caterpillar on my fennel today just to check it out…… 

One butterfly enthusiast confined many very hungry Black Swallowtail caterpillars to a screened area and captured the entire cycle in a photo chronicle.   Here is the photo chronicle of Black Swallowtail butterflies from egg to adult.

Powell Gardens, which is about a half hour east of Kansas City, schedules butterfly events and has a large area devoted to plants that attract butterflies.  The photograph at the top of the page was from a visit I made there in 2007.  The website is Powell Gardens.  To learn more about creating a certified Monarch waystation go to Monarch Watch.  My other posts on butterflies and caterpillars can be found through the search box or by scrolling down.

Is this the last Black Swallowtail Caterpillar of the year?  The fennel plant has almost been chewed clean of leaves.

Is this the last Black Swallowtail Caterpillar of the year? The fennel plant has almost been chewed clean of leaves.


Filed under Animals, Biology, Conservation, Education, Entomology, Environment, Gardening, Humor, Insects, Kansas, Life, Natural History, Nature, Personal, Random, Science, Uncategorized

6 responses to “The Mystery of the Black Swallowtail Butterfly

  1. You got some great shots. September is a great time of the year, you can observe so many fauna and flora change, and many go through the latter stages of their life cycles (offspring, migration, mating, etc.).


  2. Thanks for adding me to your blogroll!! Your photography is simply beautiful. I confess that it’s rare for both me and The Confluence to appear in the same blogroll, but I’m glad to have made the cut 🙂


  3. Catherine Sherman

    Ames, I’m glad you enjoyed my photographs. I try to read widely when I’m not out chasing after butterflies.


  4. elissestuart

    Your photographs are amazing. I have never seen butterflies like this where I live. Absolutely beautiful.


  5. I loved this, the previous post and photos, Cathy – I’m learning much about your part of the world. Living in such a small island we sometimes tend to forget how vast the US is, with its amazing variety of wildlife and countryside – and that’s not even touching on the extraordinarily different urban environs. Thanks .


  6. The chronicle linked here is awesome! The pictures are beautiful and the narrative is intriguing. I have some more clues for your mystery: the top butterfly pictured is a Pipevine Swallowtail; the second is the dark morph female of the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail. So, neither are related to your vanishing black swallowtail caterpillars. These are awesome photos. Thanks for sharing them.


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