Thursday, February 9, 2017

Black Butterfly Hatches while it Rains and Blows...female pipevine swallowtail

 On January 23rd, picking out spent leaves on a potted pelargonium I snapped off a brown stem. As I went to toss the leaves in a bucket, I looked down in my hand and saw what I thought at first was a leaf rolled up. I had inadvertently plucked some little critter.  I realized it must have been attached to the stem I had broken; it was a chrysalis. I wish I had been more careful because now I couldn't string it back to the plant the way it must have neatly spun itself on a twig to swing and sway in waiting.  I brought it inside and marveled how its colors were so similar to the leaves of my plant.   I later read that they are often the color of the leaves they have eaten.

I set my displaced friend with a leaf or two in a glass jar with  a vented lid and put it on my desk.  I was pretty sure it was a future butterfly, but I hadn't had any close encounters with a chrysalis for many decades.

I took a peek at it most every day. It never answered any of my questions as to whether its accommodations were satisfactory or let me know if my assurances of good intentions were penetrating.  I took this picture on January 27th.  It was hard to tell if anything was going on.  The leaf was drying up, but the chrysalis looked about the same. 

 I decided it deserved more of the plant in the jar and I nestled it on a new leaf on February 5th.  They really do have a matching color thing going on together, don't they?  I was prepared to wait. One friend suggested to me it could take months to manifest.

Then this morning, February 9th, as I approached my desk, I saw my cat standing over the jar and sniffing at the lid.  I knew at once that movement must have drawn the cat, something was changed.  I had missed the moments of emerging, eclosing, hatching.  While I had slept, the last transformations had been going on inside this quiet package.

Lifting by the stem of leaves, I helped her out of the jar right away.  I was excited and wanted to return her liberty to her at once. I took her out to the front porch and set her on the wooden arm of a chair.  The wind was blowing and the rain poured down.  What a morning for the birth of this beautiful black swallowtail butterfly.

She continued to cling to the leaf.  I picked a new wet stem of the same plant and she gravitated to that and seemed to drink.

Still in my robe, I left her on the window sill and  I went back inside.  The husk and original leaf on which she had rested, brown now, lay in the bottom of the jar.  I got dressed and went back out to check on the winged beauty.

She hadn't flown away. One could hardly blame her.  We are in the middle of what the weatherman has called an atmospheric river.  I decided she might need to shelter for a time,  so I moved the very potted plant on which we had first met up under the cover of the porch roof and set her cut branch in the living plant.

And there on a potted pelargonium on my front porch she has spent her first day.  I should go see if she is still there...It is  now 9 pm and she is still on the potted plant.  I do hope she is viable.  Perhaps tomorrow there will be a spot of sunshine, something this butterfly has to yet experience, and with wings warmed she will venture out into the garden.

FRIDAY MORN UP DATE:  Sunshine was the secret ingredient for this butterfly to take wing.   As soon as a few weak rays broke through this morn, I moved the potted plant and inhabitant into the light and several hours later my friend had flown into her life!   Maybe sometime she will make me a visit.

February 9th in a ray of morning light.


from friend Katie who has studied butterflies: 

 "We don't have black swallowtails in our part of CA.  It looks to me, you have a female pipevine swallowtail (, which feeds only on pipevines ( Do you have some pipevine, native or cultivated, nearby? Caterpillars of all sorts of Lepidoptera tend to roam around before they pupate, hence why you found yours in your geranium. And, they also tend to eclose early in the morning, maybe as protection from hungry birds, considering leps are so vulnerable when their wings pump out and harden.....and really you should let them rest outdoors to get the winter chill and emerge at the same time as their cohorts for mating purposes."

~Thank you Katie~  I  haven't seen the pipevine plant in our environs, but one can always stand to become more observant and it isn't as if I can trek around in all the places this beautiful butterfly can go. I wonder how far the caterpillars can crawl?  I hope she wasn't too coddled and thereby premature in my warm house...learning...learning.  It is always good to learn!