A Swallowtail Odyssey: Life among the Spicebushes

Papilio troilus

Spicebush Swallowtail caterpillar parked in its garage

It’s Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus) time in our backyard, which is good for us curious yard-watchers, but a bit hard on our spicebushes (Lindera benzoin).  We’re watching the little ones grow up and they do it fast!  Now, I am personally not familiar with the growth stages of insects—instars and all that, but maybe you are and will know exactly what these kids are.

At any rate, you just gotta love that face.

Papilio troilus small caterpillar on spicebush

Just a baby!

Spicebush swallowtail caterpillar


Growing up and getting hungry.

Growing up and getting hungry.

Papilio troilus

Lunching on spicebush leaves

After a period of feeding, the larvae head home for a well-deserved rest.  They must leave a trail to follow when they go out to forage, because they will walk along branches and twigs, unerringly turning at the right places to get home.

Spicebush swallowtail larvae

Caterpillar heading back to the ranch.

Spicebush with caterpillar leaves sheltering caterpillars

The ranch. The folded leaves contain caterpillars.

We will be keeping an eye on these kids, hoping to help them make it to adulthood.  The foliage on this spicebush is rather sparse for a population of five health, growing adolescents, but we hear that sassafras leaves can be used to supplement their diets.  We may need to go out and gather some groceries soon, if I ever want to get pictures of the adult butterflies.

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