- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
And she's beautiful!
It all began with finding two anise swallowtail chrysalids clinging last July to the fennel stems in our pollinator garden in Vacaville, Calif.
To protect them from predators and the elements, we tucked them inside a zippered net butterfly habitat and placed “the prized package” in the corner of a laundry room to await the spring of 2018--and eclosure.
The first day of spring, March 20, came and went. Then 288 days slipped by. The chrysalids remained intact. Were they viable?
We showed images of the chrysalids to butterfly guru Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, who's been researching the butterfly population of central California for more than four decades.
“They both look OK—the intersegmental membranes are not showing,” he said. “Stick them in the refrigerator for a month and try again. If they are a coast range population, some may diapause up to 5 years. If a valley population, multiyear diapause is very unusual.”
Shapiro advised that we “put them in a lidded container” to prevent their drying out. “Diapausing pupae only breathe once or twice a day.”
So, on June 5, in the refrigerator they went, joining assorted cups of yogurt, bags of fruits and vegetables, jars of peanut butter, cartons of fat-free milk and what-have-you.
What a life!
Then on July 4, Independence Day (but with no fanfare, ceremony or celebration) out they came. (The yogurt, fruits and vegetables, peanut butter, milk and what-have-you stayed behind.)
We placed the (probably) thoroughly confused chrysalids back in the butterfly habitat, but this time, outdoors, and right next to their host plant, fennel. Daytime temperatures climbed to 100 degrees and night temperatures dropped into the 50s.
Nothing happened. Nothing.
Just as we were wondering if they were still viable, we saw a winged burst of yellow, black and blue on Sunday night, July 14. A long-awaited eclosure!
It's a girl! (as identified by Professor Shapiro). (Read more about the anise swallowtail, Papilio zelicaon, on his website.)
Early Monday morning, we dipped a fennel blossom into a mixture of 10 parts water and one part honey. Food! She drank heartily. Then we placed her atop the towering fennel so she could warm her flight muscles.
Two hours later, Ms. Anise Swallowtail became part of the Wonderful World of Butterflies. She circled the house, returned to nectar on the Mexican sunflower (Tithonia), and left. No fanfare, no ceremony, no celebration. This is her world now.
The other chrysalis? It remains intact. Fingers crossed that it, too, will survive.
It doesn't get much better than this--in a world where kindness matters. It always has.
- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
It's a bird! It's a plane! Is it Superman?
No, it's a bird dropping.
If you're growing sweet fennel (anise), you may have noticed what appear to be two species of swallowtail butterflies populating your plant.
You'll see larvae (caterpillars) that are pale green with black bands containing orange spots. But look more closely and you'll see the smaller larvae or early instars. They look like bird droppings. A gift from above?
Those are both the immature stages of the anise swallowtail, Papillo zelicaon, (Check out the beautiful images of the butterfly and its immature stages on the Natural History of Orange County website.)
Butterfly guru Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, says the anise swallowtails have several generations (late February or March-October) "and breed very largely on sweet fennel (anise), Foeniculum vulgare and in the first half of the season, poison Hemlock (Conium maculatum)."
These are naturalized European weeds, he says on his website. "We believe this ecotype originally lived in the tule marshes and bred on water hemlock (Cicuta) and another Apiaceous plant named Oenanthe. These are still used but only rarely in comparison ot he weeds; they are the only native hosts available in the Mediterranean summer that could have sustained repeated breeding."
Colors of the iconic anise swallowtail caterpillars also differ. "In hot, dry sites there is more green and less black, while under cool, humid conditions, the green may even disappear!" Shapiro says. And the pupae (chrysalids) may be brown or green.
Meanwhile, our caterpillars are feasting on the fennel and shedding their protective, camouflaged "bird dropping" skin. The California scrubjays that dine on the Gulf Fritillary caterpillars on the nearby passionflower vine (Passilfora) don't seem to notice.
Here's hoping they won't touch the anise swallowtails. Why would they want to eat something that looks like bird poo?