Black Swallowtail Caterpillar

Swallowtails are challenging for me to identify, and the only one I can remember is the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail; it’s the only one with more yellow than black! 

Black Swallowtail Caterpillar | Photo by Alice Mary Herden

The swallowtails

  • Zebra Swallowtail
  • Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
  • Pipevine Swallowtail
  • Black Swallowtail 
  • Palamedes Swallowtail
  • Eastern Giant Swallowtail
  • Spicebush Swallowtail

And of course, there are more in other states, but these are the common ones you will find here in Florida.

So what brought this post on about a Black Swallowtail caterpillar? Two things: People and Plants!

Let’s start with plants and how nature lovers can learn by knowing a few things about plants. 

As in nature, everything connects, everything! Without one species, another species declines or takes hundreds of years to evolve, building some type of adaptation for future generations to survive. (The Yucca Moth and the Common Yucca Plant, for example)

Two years ago, I noticed a plant with a strange object attached to its stem in the distance. I took a couple of photos (the plant was in a place I couldn’t walk to), and when reviewing the images, I zoomed in, and it was a chrysalis. After posting it on iNaturalist, it was identified as a black swallowtail as well as the plant- Water Cowbane. I learned that the water cowbane plant is the host plant for the black swallowtail butterfly! When I find water cowbane blooming, I know what I need to look for; Black Swallowtails.

On my day out naturing, I found water cowbane in bloom. These plants were just beyond the edge of the limestone road near a beautiful cypress dome. As I hoped to see, there it was- a single black swallowtail caterpillar munching down on the stems of a water cowbane plant. Yes, I was excited!

There is one part of a caterpillar I need to take the time to observe, and that would be the eyes. From what I have read, caterpillars have 12! After how many years I have photographed caterpillars, I never really thought about their eyes. Yep, I’ll be doing some research!

I believe the arrow is pointing to one location where you might find the caterpillar’s eyes. | Photo by Alice Mary Herden

Learning about plants helps us know about other things. I am not saying learn EVERYTHING about plants. Heck, I can’t even pronounce the Latin names! But having a field book on hand is awesome. If you do learn some things, it helps you discover other things you may overlook!

I would never push anyone to learn the technical terminology of flora and fauna. I was in that position when someone did that to me. It’s like I couldn’t hang out with them if I didn’t talk their lingo. It made me feel like an outcast, not smart enough; not only that, it created a distance from why I love being in nature, exploring, photographing, and learning. So common names are perfectly fine and it’s A-OK just to know the basics. Learn, explore and discover at your own pace. Trust me, nature is not going to judge you!

Okay, the other thing. While I was photographing the caterpillar, I watched people drive by and it made me realize those people have no clue what they just passed- the wonders and extraordinary life cycle of a caterpillar. Here is a caterpillar eating a plant so it can build up its metabolism to go through a strange and weird metamorphosis to become a beautiful butterfly to help pollinate plants so those plants can produce nectar to feed birds, butterflies, and insects as well as create more plants! And get this, that process repeats itself millions of times!

Woe, that was a mouthful!

Be safe in your travels.

1 reply

  1. More education!

    I’m getting better at identifying the swallowtail adults. The larvae – not so much.
    You are so right about associating the species with their host and feeding plants.

    In the past, I would feel lucky to get a good butterfly photo. Eventually, I realized certain adults were around certain plants. Duh!

    Now I’m not ashamed to looking for a particular plant in the hope of finding a particular butterfly I want to photograph. Amazing how often I have been successful!

    Science is so cool.

    Liked by 1 person

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