We departed the Fort Lauderdale airport for Chicago with our undeclared cargo of four Black Swallowtail Butterfly larvae safely encased in a plastic bag with a generous bunch of fresh parsley. We were uncertain as to whether Homeland Security might regard them as “liquids or gels” that required special attention. See earlier post about how we met the parsley caterpillars.
We got through security, and three of the four made the journey without incident. The smallest caterpillar had fallen on the floor when I was transferring them, and I had to pick it up with my fingers, probably causing an injury. It failed to thrive, and expired after a few days.
The other three caterpillars quickly formed chrysalises, which I hung from a banana hook in our kitchen. I wanted the grandchildren to experience the thrill of seeing them turn into butterflies, so I brought them over to their home when the first appeared “ripe,” as evidenced by its darker color and spotted pattern showing through the skin of the chrysalis. Sure enough, it emerged the next morning. Because of injudicious handling, its wings never opened fully, and we released it in a patch of Queen Anne’s lace (a Black Swallowtail host plant, as are all members of the carrot/parsley family) in the back yard, hoping it might still find a mate.
The next one provided quite a show. The children had been watching it carefully, and saw it emerge. This time they knew to just leave it alone and let it complete its transformation without any “help.” We got there a little later and took a few pictures as it clung to the dried parsley stalk along with two empty shells and the third, still developing chrysalis.
The three-year old was very interested in the details of the
butterfly’s anatomy, counting its legs and identifying the antennae,
eyes, proboscis, thorax, and abdomen. She noted how the insect pumped
fluid into its wings as they expanded.
Without any prompting, both girls fetched their butterfly Halloween
costumes from last year, and put them on. They formed little Play-Doh caterpillars and butterflies. They had mixed feelings as
they watched the butterfly fly directly into the blue sky.
Here in Chicagoland, Black Swallowtails are now scarce, but only yesterday, I saw one visit the Queen Anne’s Lace in the prairie just outside their back yard fence. Could it have been “our” butterfly? Did it find our little disabled flutterer? Interestingly, the final caterpillar’s chrysalis has not yet opened after almost a month. Since Black Swallowtails overwinter inside the chrysalis, perhaps something triggered it to go into a dormant state.