Caterpillar Investigation, The Final Installment

My regular readers probably thought I dropped the ball on the caterpillar investigation my children and I started back on September 26th. For those who don't know, we found some mystery caterpillars on our parsley plants. We observed them for a while, placed them in our butterfly house, and watched them turn into chrysalids. Then you never heard about them again.

Until now, that is! As I reported last October, we left the butterfly house in our porch all winter. Finally, on Friday, one butterfly emerged. We were very excited!

(June 3rd Update: The second butterfly emerged today- one week after the first).
We placed a small container of water in the house and let the butterfly dry its wings for a while. Then we opened the house to let it out. I gently placed my hand in front of the butterfly and let it crawl onto my finger. We didn't try to touch it in any way- I just let it crawl on me and stay as long as it wanted.

Check out the beautiful pattern on it's underside.

And look at its fuzzy back and the proboscis curled up under its eyes. The proboscis is a straw-like tube the butterfly uses to drink nectar.


After a few minutes, it flew off my finger and went directly to the irises blooming in my flower garden. Look closely and you'll see the proboscis going into the flower to get nectar. The butterfly flitted to several flowers to eat. Imagine... this critter hasn' t had any food since the parsley it ate last fall when it was still a caterpillar. We thought it seemed hungry.

When it left the flower, we chased it into the backyard, watching it flutter up and down in the breeze. Then things got really exciting and a bit scary. A bird came out of nowhere and chased after the butterfly. We could hear its beak snapping shut! I have never heard that before. We watched in horror, certain our newly emerged friend was going to be bird food. At the last minute, the butterfly swerved into the leaves of a nearby maple tree and escaped. Of course, we understand the laws of nature, but boy were we glad it got to live as a butterfly for a least a while longer.

Here's the bird that chased it. I know it's small in the photo- I didn't have my zoom lens on because I was photographing a butterfly. Can any bird lovers out there identify it by its silhouette?

Last fall I asked if any of you knew the species. Now that one has emerged as a butterfly, my son looked it up in a field guide and declared it a Black Swallowtail Butterfly.

This investigation demonstrates that you can never fully predict what will happen in nature. I knew the caterpillar would emerge as a butterfly if all went well, but I could not possibly have planned the chase scene with the bird. Such excitement! And, as an aside, just 5 minutes later, a Bald Eagle swooped though our yard so low to the ground that we could easily see it's white head. There was no better show in town on Friday than the one happening right outside in our yard.

Have you noticed any butterflies in your area lately? Ours was the first one I had seen this year, but over the weekend more appeared. How about in your neck of the woods? Do you know the species?