Sky High Delivery! News from the greenhouse

May 22, 2008

Guess what I found on the curled up leave of our potted Camphor Tree last week!

Seven absolutely beautiful Spicebush Swallowtail caterpillars, Papilio Troilus, of various sizes, just hanging out for the day, all curled up in their little hideaway.

Swallowtails are a beautiful sight to the eye as they gracefully sail down into the garden.  Outside the greenhouse area, we quite often have visitors in flight feasting upon our smorgasbord of tasty nectar sources.  Not only do they find the feast of nectar sources available to them, but they also check to see if we have any host plants available to lay their eggs upon while they are visiting us.


The Caterpillar has formed a chyrsalis
photo credit: Don Johnson

And that is just what this Swallowtail did.  She lighted upon the leaves of our potted Camphor Tree, Cinnamomum camphora, and in doing so she triggered hormones from the pads of her feet that let her know this is the food source for her offspring. 

To our delight, she delivered  to us  her brood of eggs.  During the first few weeks of life, the caterpillar of this specific butterfly takes on the beneficial camoflauge of bird droppings.  After a few weeks, the larvae, or caterpillar, boasts a beautiful green covering with artificial eye spots outlined in black resting within a background coloring of creamy yellow. 

In order to hide out during the day and feast at night, the caterpillar spins silk in a back and forth motion across the midrib of the upper side of the leaf. This silk causes the leaf to curl up around their bodies protecting them from predators during the day. 


The caterpillar turns yellow before pupation.
Photo credit: Don Johnson

Other known Host Plants of the Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly are the Sassafras Tree, Sassafras albidum, Red Bay, Persea borbonia, and the Sweet Bay, Magnolia virginiana.

Fluttering across the pink

Spciebush Swallowtail Butterfly

Creative Commons License photo credit: Benimoto

It never ceases to amaze me, that these delicate creatures find their way up here to the seventh floor  of the parking garage amidst all the concrete and stone.  They leave their gifts of life to us; another beautiful butterfly family to carry on and inspire us with their sense of wonder. 

Authored By Ory Roberts

Ory is the Greenhouse Manager/Rearing Coordinator for the Cockrell Butterfly Center. Didn’t know there was a greenhouse at the Museum? She raises 20,000 Heliconius longwing butterflies there, as well as thousands of host and nectar plants for butterfly gardening. Check out her posts for more information on gardening with nature.

2 responses to “Sky High Delivery! News from the greenhouse”

  1. Erin M. says:

    This is beautiful Ory. I love Spicebush swallowtails!

  2. Evie and Joan Hebert says:

    That was beautiful and educational. Stuff made for National Geographic!

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