In December, I took this photo,
…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.
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,
…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.
Thankfully, it was the former that happened–emergence of the adult butterfly.
Butterflies dry their wings by alternately closing and opening them in those first hours.
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.
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.
I’ve seen a Black Swallowtail all this week flying fast through the garden. Is it the same one?
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,
…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!