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Black Swallowtail Caterpillar Stages

The Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) caterpillar undergoes a series of developmental stages, much like other butterflies. This process is known as metamorphosis, and for butterflies, it encompasses four primary stages:

1. Egg

The life of a Black Swallowtail begins as a tiny, spherical, cream-colored egg. The female butterfly usually lays these eggs on the undersides of host plant leaves, typically plants from the carrot family, like parsley, dill, and fennel.

Black Swallowtail egg on member of the Carrot family.

2. Larva (Caterpillar)

Early Instars: After hatching, the caterpillar is tiny and mostly black with a white “saddle” marking resembling bird droppings, which acts as camouflage against predators.

First instar Black Swallowtail caterpillar with white saddle.

Later Instars: As the caterpillar grows and molts, it undergoes several instar stages. In the later instars, the caterpillar changes in appearance, becoming green with black bands and yellow spots. This stage is all about eating and growing.

3. Pupa (Chrysalis)

Once the caterpillar reaches its full size, it forms a chrysalis. It attaches itself to a sturdy structure, like a stem or leaf, using silk threads. Inside the chrysalis, the caterpillar undergoes a remarkable transformation. The green or brown chrysalis acts as a protective covering during this stage.

4. Adult (Butterfly)

After the metamorphosis within the chrysalis is complete, a fully formed Black Swallowtail butterfly emerges. It gently unfolds and dries its wings before taking its first flight. The adult butterfly then seeks out mates to reproduce and continue the life cycle.

Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes)

Throughout its life, the Black Swallowtail caterpillar and butterfly face various threats from predators, but their appearance, especially during the early instars, provides some protection through camouflage and mimicry. The entire process, from egg to adult, is a captivating journey of growth, change, and adaptation… one day at a time!

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