Pressed “Resume”

In December, I took this photo,

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…of a newly pupated Eastern Black Swallowtail butterfly, Papilio polyxenes.  I lamented that this insect hatched, developed through its instar stages as a voraciously eating caterpillar, and then pupated so late in the season. The winters here in Central Texas are mild, certainly compared to some, but would this lovely creature overwinter and emerge in spring?  All I could do was to wait, watch and hope.  Diapause is the mechanism that many in the animal kingdom use to survive changing environmental conditions, like those occurring in winter, including heavy rains and hard freezes.  Diapause includes hibernation and physiological slowing down (the swallowtail actually produces a kind of antifreeze against frigid temperatures) in order to survive until more favorable conditions arise, like warmer temperatures, longer daylight hours and increased food supplies.

Those conditions arrived earlier this week for my swallowtail.

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Beautiful.

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I kept a close eye on the chrysalis all winter, checking it once a week or so, as I managed to remember, and taking care not to damage it as leaves were raked and perennials pruned. The chrysalis remained a healthy iridescent green all winter.  At some point, I took the twig that the chrysalis attached to and placed it upright in the soil,

IMGP6400.new …so that I could find it easily, but other than that, I did nothing but await changes.  Last week the chrysalis darkened, which is a sign of impending butterfly emergence.  Or, death of the pupa. 

IMGP6396.new Thankfully, it was the former that happened–emergence of the adult butterfly.

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Butterflies dry their wings by alternately closing and opening them in those first hours.

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Look at that adorable face, looking maybe just a little nervous that it can’t hold onto the leaf of a Gulf Coast Penstemon, Penstemon tenuis.  I believe this is a female, because she has yellow dots above the blue band on the hind wings;  the males have more yellow topping the blue band.

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She rests, wings open, near her former food source and future offspring grazing grounds of Fennel (right top) and also her winter digs, to left side of her left wing.

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I’ve seen a Black Swallowtail all this week flying fast through the garden.  Is it the same one?

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I don’t know and it doesn’t really matter.  The blossoms are opening and pollinators awakening in response. Or is it the other way around?

The obvious ones, because of their beauty, IMGP6395.new

…get the most attention and photo/blog play.  But their oft ignored and unappreciated, but no less important plainer cousins such as flies, skipper butterflies, moths, and other insect species are the foundation for a healthy, abundant garden and overall diverse environment.

Good nectaring, pollinating, and breeding to all of them!

28 thoughts on “Pressed “Resume”

  1. That is a fascinating question – which comes first – blooms or pollinators? I know I am seeing a lot more of both around my spaces with what seems to be almost daily increase in numbers. I’m not ready for “hot” yet but “warmer” is keeping very charming company so far!

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    • There are so many things creeping, crawling, flying, nectaring and so on. And then there are the blooms–unfurling, unfolding, opening, happening. It’s a lovely time of year and a confirmation that it’s all worth it.

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  2. I’m so glad your chrysalis survived the winter and turned into a beautiful butterfly. I had a lot of swallowtail caterpillars last fall and into the winter, but never found any chrysalises, and haven’t seen any butterflies…yet. You always seem to be a week or two ahead of me with wildlife, so I’ll definitely keep my eyes open for them.

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    • I was fairly sure that the chrysalis would survive the weather conditions; I was more concerned about my forgetting it was there and damaging in some fashion. The black swallowtail is often one of the first butterflies I see, so they must overwinter quite successfully. Still it was instructive to follow it these past months.

      It all should be happening for you soon. Keep us posted!

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    • Glad your pollinators have those azaleas to enjoy! I haven’t seen any Tigers yet, though I did spot a Giant Swallowtail through my garden a few days ago. Enjoy!

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    • Oh, that’s a bummer about the monarch. I was pleased that this gal made it.

      The monarchs are on the move north!! Just a few weeks more and they should be moving through Central Texas.

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  3. Thank you for sharing your experience of watching out for and supporting your butterfly (and other wildlife in your garden). It’s a hopeful story and one that speaks to all of us. I’m missing the butterflies right now. There were so many in Florida! Some butterflies have been sighted in Wisconsin (during an earlier warm spell), but I haven’t seen any here yet, and we’re now very cold. 😦 Better weather next week! Thanks, again, for this hopeful post!

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    • I hope your butterflies and all things garden-critter return soon and I’m sure they will. I’m sure you enjoyed those Florida butterflies and anoles, too.

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  4. oh thank you, what a lovely post and I learnt a new word ‘ diapause’. The Black Swallowtail butterfly is exquisite, I am so glad that he survived the winter.

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    • Thanks, Chloris. It was a lovely gift to experience the first few hours of that adult butterfly’s life and to share it with the photos. The Black Swallowtail is a really beautiful butterfly and we’re fortunate to have them here.

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    • She’s a beauty, isn’t she? But I try not to just notice the “pretty” ones. Some of the more homely insects are fascinating and so important for environmental balance.

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  5. What fun to watch it come out- great timing! I grow fennel but never harvest it- instead I watch the swallowtail caterpillars mow it down every year. I think the birds end up eating the caterpillars though since I never see any chrysallises.. Wonderful photographs!

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    • Birds do get’m at times–they have to eat too, though I wish they’d all stick to seeds. 🙂 Maybe there will be a bumper crop of caterpillars this year and your birds will leave your caterpillars alone.

      One can hope!

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  6. I always worry when I see these little guys in the fall. I wonder how they survive being frozen solid over winter. It’s too early here for butterflies, but I have seen a few bees, which are always a welcome sight.

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    • There are apparently all sorts of biological mechanisms in play to slow down their development and I suppose that has evolved–otherwise they’d all perish in winter.

      I’ve come to really enjoy our native bees and keep a watch for them. There are so many, that it’s often hard to identify which is which, though I’m learning. And I agree that they are a welcome sight.

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