Friday, December 2, 2011

Raising Swallowtails

Hey ya'll 

It feels so good to be back!!! I recently have gotten my hands on a couple more butterflies which means butterfly eggs  and of course, those adorable little wormy things people call caterpillars. Many of the butterflies I raise are obtained through captive bred specimens and so I will have the joy of raising them from their ova (egg) stage. The eggs of butterflies can be notoriously hard to spot, but it is in my experience to speculate that many butterflies prefer to deposit their eggs on the tender shoots of plants, usually   at the bottom of the leaves so that would be a great place to look. Once you've spotted your eggs, it is time to harvest them. I usually do this by nipping off the entire bit of shoot that the egg is on. 

Ova of the Malayan Zebra (Graphium delessertii)
But of course, shoots don't stay fresh forever and dipping the shoots in water becomes risky business when there is a high risk of the newly hatched caterpillar drowning. To overcome this, I raise many of the early instars in little plastic cups, the kind you get when you order iced-tea from many places, with a make-shift dish at the bottom which allows me to dip the plant stems in water, but at the same time prevent the little caterpillars from falling in and drowning, 

Malayan Zebra (Graphium delessertii) eggs and the leaves of their host plant (cinnamomum sp.)
As the caterpillars grow larger, the tray becomes unnecessary and I eventually remove it after their third or fourth instar when they grow large enough to not drown inside a water droplett,

Larger swallowtail caterpillars (Papilio demoleus/polytes)
Most caterpillars are quite peaceable so it is not necessary to separate them from each other, although I would recommend that one avoid overcrowding, especially in such small enclosures. Personally I never go beyond four or five caterpillars a cup. They do start to eat quite voraciously as they grow larger though, so it is imperative that leaves be added and replaced day after day. To keep them fresh, a light misting with a plant spray usually does the trick although the dampness might make the caterpillar's ... leavings... get all mushy and should be washed out every other day or so to avoid fungus growing. When the caterpillar grows large enough and begins spitting out copious amounts of silk, I usually take it as a sign that it is about to pupate and will then transfer it to a more conventional terrarium with a grated surface upon which it may adhere too (some caterpillars find it hard to walk on smooth plastic walls). After the caterpillar has pupated (I usually leave them alone for 2-3 days) I then carefully remove it together with the silk it sticks to and place it inside my chrysalis hatching chamber (which is larger to give the butterfly ample room to spread its wings when it emerges), and there it will wait until it is time for the butterfly to eclose.

Assorted butterfly chrysalids awaiting eclosure.
ps. It is really not necessary to remove or relocate your chrysalids if the caterpillar has already done so in an  enclosure that gives it plenty of room for the adult butterfly to expand its wings and in fact, I would not recommend it for beginners since there is always the risk of a shaky hand causing grievous harm to the developing insect.

Anyway I hope this was significantly helpful, or at least minorly interesting for most of you, but until next time~


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