The Pipevine S-tail Story Continues….

In our previous installment, when last we left our caterpillar heroes (“Pipevine Cats Mystery” June 23), they were climbing over pipevines in several gardens in South Jersey, munching as fast as they could.

In our Port Republic garden, most of our thirty-three caterpillars dispersed from the vine between June 25 and July 5th. They walk quickly as they descend and apparently cover some distance in their search for a hiding spot. We convinced one to walk into an over-sized, see-through plastic jar, and then placed a couple of sticks inside. After circling the jar for a couple of hours, it settled down and curled up on the underside of one stick. By the next morning, June 28th, it was in pupal state, in a brown-form chrysalis.

Yesterday, July 11, Jesse saw two adult pipevine swallowtails zig-zagging over our pipevine plant again. We are guessing they might be returning to the very same tree and vine where they were raised themselves a few weeks ago. The leaves are looking a little ragged by this point, and seem tougher than they were in early June, but beggars can’t be choosers and the selection of Aristolochia in our neighborhood is limited.

Seeing those adults in flight cued us to check in on our plastic jar specimen, but it hadn’t moved by last evening.

This morning, however, our daughter’s dog poked his nose into the net over our plastic jar just after breakfast… something was moving in there, he wanted us to know.

Our prisoner had broken from her chrysalis.

We moved the jar onto the porch and pulled back the netting: a gorgeous, fresh female. She climbed onto Jesse’s forearm for only an instant and one quick photo, and then took off.

So (to review our story), this morning’s flyer emerged from an egg laid in the first week of June, moved through the five instar stages from about June 10 until June 27, and then left the host plant to pupate on June 28th. She emerged this morning, July 12, and is now off in search of some nectar, a mate, and then an egg-laying site.

And while walking back into the house with my camera, I found one last 5th-instar caterpillar on its own walk-about, twenty yards from the vine and searching for a place to pupate.

Into the plastic jar it went.

So, stay tuned here for the next exciting episode of “Pipevine Swallowtails In South Jersey”!


PS, a question for anyone in the know:

Will this morning’s last caterpillar emerge this year to fly? Do some individual pipevine swallowtails from the mid-summer (June/July) brood remain in their chrysalises until the following spring? Or are all over-winterers descendents from the third brood — the brood still to come? (All four of our local swallowtail species overwinter in the pupal state.)

Update, 7/14/11:

Male pipevine swallowtail nectaring on hosta about 50 feet from pipevine where presumably it lived as a caterpillar. Photo by Jesse Connor, 7/14/11.

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