Giant Swallowtail Butterfly

Friday November 21, 2014
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Your Majesty the Giant Swallowtail Butterfly

Bird poop larva of swallowtail

The mature caterpillar of the Giant Swallowtail is so disguised as to deter predators into thinking its just a piece of bird poop.

Once Upon a Time . . .

This is a story about an ugly caterpillar that turns into a beautiful majestic butterfly; but before this sad-looking caterpillar grows up, it goes through an unsightly, humiliating stage that resembles bird poop!

Larva from the Giant Swallowtail Butterfly is a greenish-brown with white blotches that look like bird poop; therefore, it is often referred to as the Bird Poop Worm or Bird Poop Caterpillar.

In the Beginning

The bird poop caterpillar started out as an orangy-yellow egg carefully placed atop a leaf by its lovely mother, a big beautiful black and yellow butterfly.

Giant Swallowtail Butterfly Egg

The egg of the Giant Swallowtail Butterfly is orange in color.

Mother butterfly chose the perfect leaf amongst the branches of a lemon tree. Gradually, the pretty orange egg darkened in color then opened and out squeezed the caterpillar.

Orange Dog Caterpillar

Bird poop caterpillar aka Orange Dog.

Bird poop worm

Bird poop caterpillars are also called Orange Dogs because they eat the leaves of orange and other citrus trees.

Deterring Predators

Although he was sickly brown in color, with white blotches on his back, he was grateful to be incognito from his predators.

Since caterpillar’s markings appeared like bird droppings, he was able to trick his enemies into moving on into other, more successful, hunting grounds.

horns of caterpillar

The caterpillar reveals its horns when threatened, emitting a foul odor to repel predators.

However, the bird poop caterpillar found that some predators are very persistent but he could rear a pair of red horns (called an osmeterium) from the top of his head and make a stink that repelled his enemies when needed.

Once safe and alone, the bird poop caterpillar moved slowly along the branches of the lemon tree where he was born and nibbled the leaves to his hearts content.

“Orange Dog”

Pretty soon the caterpillar grew to be two inches in length. Now some would say that by this time, hes

Giant swallowtail caterpillar

Oh why do I look like I do? Will I ever be a beautiful butterfly?

become a bit of a pest, calling him names like Orange Dog just because he prefers the leaves of citrus trees, especially orange trees.

But others would beg to differ and proclaim, Just wait until Orange Dog grows up, hes going to be so beautiful, who cares about a few missing leaves?!

Bird Poop Caterpillar Video

Bird poop video

Life Cycle of the Giant Swallowtail

As winter approached and the caterpillar had his fill of lemon tree leaves, he let out some silk to make a pad on the tree branch for sitting.

Then he used long strands of silk to hold himself in place while he hung, hammock style, from the tree and turned into a chrysalis.

Chrysalis of Giant Swallowtail

The chrysalis of the Giant Swallowtail looks like a piece of a tree branch when it is attached.

The chrysalis was disguised as a piece of broken branch where the ugly caterpillar slept for the next 10-12 days.

All wrapped up in his cocoon, the caterpillar found himself dreaming of the day when he would emerge into a beautiful, majestic, Giant Swallowtail butterfly.

He’d be so big and awesome that his wings would span up to seven inches in width!

Giant Swallowtail life cycle

Life cycle of the Giant Swallowtail Butterfly.

Metamorphous Completed

Finally, the day came when the caterpillar poked its head out of his shelter, wiggled his wings, and flew high above the lemon trees singing Look at me, look at me, Im a beautiful butterfly, woo-wee!

– And no one, absolutely no one, could call him “Bird Poop” or “Orange Dog” ever again.

The End

Giant Swallowtail Butterfly Facts:

  • The Giant Swallowtail is the largest butterfly in the United States and Canada.
  • The butterfly has a long tongue an inch-and-a-quarter in length which it keeps curled up until it detects the scent of a flower. The smell stimulates the tongue into stiffening into a probing tube for sipping nectar.
  • Females are larger than males.
  • In California, Giant Swallowtails fly from March to as late as December.
  • They copulate in the afternoon.
  • Swallowtails are so named because of their forked Swallow bird tails.
  • They have eyes on the bottom of their wings.
  • The Giant Swallowtail can live up to a year but usually there are two generations within a year.

Article and Art Work by Donna Walker





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