The Great Caterpillar Run

by Donna Lewis

On May 2, I went out to the pollinator garden to work, and all I saw was black Pipe-vine caterpillars on the march to find more pipe-vine plants. They ate all the ones I have in my garden right down to the ground and are even eating the stems right now.  It’s a feast going on….

The vines, before

I almost stepped on a bunch of them.

Off it goes!

I got my camera, took a few shots and then carefully walked out of the garden.

The vines, after

They will go out to the pasture and find their native vine until they are big enough to make a chrysalis  and then become a beautiful black swallowtail butterfly.

Nothing left but future butterflies.

In several weeks, my plants will completely grow back and the process begins again. Last year I had four complete cycles.

The caterpillars can be black or dark red.

That is amazing.

PS: Out near where Donna lives, Suna saw at least a dozen of the adults enjoying Indian blanket flowers. Sadly, she was unable to stop the vehicle fast enough for a photo, but it was a beautiful sight.

Pipevine Swallowtail

by Donna Lewis

There has been lots of activity in the pipevine area of my garden.

The first baby pipevine swallowtails (Battus philenor) of the year. These are the black form of the larva. There is also a red form. I will probably have both later on in the month.

This is a species of butterfly that is common around Milam County, so, I am sure there is a native pipevine that it uses as its host plant. My goal this year is to find it, and take some photos.

You will know this butterfly by the blue-metallic hind wings.

Photo taken April 20 at Canyon Lake by dnvarga on iNaturalist. Used with permission.

The pipevine plant I have in my garden is a naturalized version from Brazil. It is apparently safe (not invasive).  It is hard to come by, because the caterpillars will eat it to the ground in 24 hours. Thankfully, it has grown back 4 to 5 times each year. This plant has a toxic ingredient like milkweed to protect the adult butterfly.

 I really like these little guys.  They do not sting you and are interesting to watch.

Who are you gardening for?

First Monarch Caterpillar

by Donna Lewis

The first tiny monarch caterpillar in my garden for this year! It is a first instar and very little. Of course, the only milkweed I have right now is pretty tiny also.

The photo is not the best, because the wind was really blowing the camera around.

Still, it’s pretty exciting to see the little thing that will grow up to be a magnificent monarch butterfly.

Reach for the stars, little one.

The Passion Vine and the Butterflies and Other Creatures That Love It

by Donna Lewis

Most of us have these beautiful vines that come up on the ground, fences, and trellises. So besides being magnificent, who else appreciates them? Butterflies and birds, that’s who.

Passionflowers

The vines only show up when it’s hot.  Pretty lucky for us, because it’s hot here.

The Latin name for the passion vine is Passiflora incarnata. What you may not know is that many of the vines we have here are actually naturalized, not native. You can tell by the number of leaves on them which one they are.

Another view.

If they have five leaves, they originally came from Asia and naturalized here. If vines have only three leaves, they are true natives. Both work well here and are host plants for the Gulf Coast and Variegated Fritillary butterfly.  The vine also provides cover for other insects.

Fritillaries

The Gulf Coast species is orange and black with silver under parts.

Gulf Coast Frittilary

They use the passion vine as a host plant. They love hot weather, so only appear when the vine emerges.  Pretty smart of them.

Gulf Coast Fritillary caterpillar

The second species of Fritillary is the Variegated variety.

Variegated Frittilary. Photo by Sue Ann Kendall.
Variegated Frittilary caterpillar. Photo by @susanmco on iNaturalist.

They also use the passion vine as a host plant to deposit their eggs on.

The Vairegated Frittilary does not have the silvery underwings of the Gulg Coast. It looks more like a dried leaf when it has its wings up. Both Fritillaries appear in the summertime, and will leave when the weather turns cooler.

The passion vine is a great way to cover a large area in your garden. [Suna points out that the fruit is also edible and makes a lovely jelly.]

This vine has five-leaf clusters, so it’s naturalized.

Beautiful and practical!  Perfect.

Caterpillar Season

Cindy Travis and Sue Ann Kendall

From Cindy:

I found a dozen of these caterpillars devouring my dill. When there was nothing but a stem left, they crawled up the side of my planter and crawled away. I thought they might find the nearby parsley and ingest it too, but no sign of that and no sign if them.

I suppose they are somewhere nearby spinning their cocoons.  Maybe I’ll see some pretty black swallowtails around soon if my nesting phoebes and barn swallows or bluebirds don’t get them first!

From Sue Ann:

I have had many of these in my bronze fennel plant, and I hope they have gone off to pupate, too! The fennel also hosted the caterpillar of the cabbage looper moth. I’ll plant dill next year, for sure. The more black swallowtails, the better!

More about the Black Swallowtail, from Cindy

Papilio polyxenes, the black swallowtail, American swallowtail or parsnip swallowtail, is a butterfly found throughout much of North America. It is the state butterfly of Oklahoma and New Jersey. Wikipedia

Eastern black swallowtail. Photo by @AngelsLight via Twenty20. Licensed use.

Black Swallowtail Life Cycle: Overview and Timings

StageTypical Duration
Egg stageGenerally 4 to 10 days, depending on temperature and host plant
Caterpillar (larval) stage3 to 4 weeks
Chrysalis (pupal) stage10 to 20 days (except for overwintering pupae)
Adult butterfly stage6 to 14 days
Facts about the Black Swallowtail

And More from Sue Ann

I had to add this observation from last night, as I was dining outdoors at the Central Avenue Bistro in Cameron (with safe distancing and all that). I felt something prickling my ankle and looked down to find this fellow. It must be on the last instar, because it’s big! I believe it’s a live oak metria moth (Metria amelia) given that it and many friends were falling from the live oak tree we were sitting under, though iNaturalist has yet to confirm me.

Hard to tell the front from the back of this one!

The moth looks like this, which really would blend right in with an oak tree!

Live oak metria moth. iNaturalist photo by xylochic627 (CC-NY-NC)