‘My grandchildren and I found a tiger swallowtail caterpillar in Wilson, NC” says this reader in her submission to us. As we can see in the photo below, this caterpillar is an olive green color, with speckles of light green and white adorning its body, and it has a large head with two eye spots with a black stripe underneath.
Our reader does not ask any questions in her submission, nor does she provide any more context than that which was written above. So, not knowing exactly the purpose of our reader’s submission, we will simply use this article as a means to provide some basic facts about the tiger swallowtail butterfly and caterpillar. The tiger swallowtail is one of the more popular butterflies in North America, specifically in the East where they are most common. These butterflies will host various species of trees and shrubs, where the caterpillars eat the leaves, and the adult butterflies pollinate the flowers. The caterpillars come in various colors, depending on what stage of its life cycle it is at, and the eye spots on top of its head are actually false. Their purpose is to scare away predators, though to us humans they just make the caterpillar that much cuter.
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In addition to the eye spots, there is an impressive amount of work these caterpillars do to avoid being eaten. The University of Florida’s entomology and nematology page on the tiger swallowtail states that in addition to their natural eye spots, tiger swallowtail caterpillars will eat their egg shells and residual yolk immediately upon birth. Not only does this provide them with a first meal, but it also prevents the attraction of predators who would be on the lookout for newly-hatched caterpillars. Additionally, once they are done eating a leaf, they will chew off the stem of the leaf so that it falls to the ground; this detracts parasitoids, who would otherwise ‘be drawn to volatile chemicals emanating from the chewed leaves’, as well as birds. Additionally, they also discard their excrement along with the leaves, so as to not leave any traces behind, which also prevents the attraction of predators. Lastly, when it is nearly time to pupate, the tiger swallowtail caterpillar will climb down the tree and hide under a twig or dead leaf to begin spinning its chrysalis. This shows that besides being adorable, the tiger swallowtail caterpillar really knows how to look after itself and assure its survival as best as it can.
To conclude, this was a brief look at tiger swallowtail butterflies and their caterpillars. We hope that this article proves insightful to our reader, and that this small collection of facts fed the curiosity of her grandchildren to some extent. If our reader, or her grandchildren, have any questions about the tiger swallowtail and what was written in this article, then they are more than welcome to share anything in the comments section below. Otherwise, there is nothing to do but commend our reader for finding this critter!
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