I wasn’t expecting to see a black swallowtail caterpillar at East Texas’s Sandylands Sanctuary during a recent visit, but there it was: perhaps having a bit of a post-dinner nap on the same stem which had provided dinner.

The two-inch long creature had hidden itself nearly at ground level within a cluster of leafy plants. Had I not been attracted to the spot by some blue-eyed grass, I never would have seen it.

The slight green tint in the photos is a fair representation of how things appeared that afternoon. As the low, slanted sunlight filtered through the grasses and plants, even the air seemed green.


Comments always are welcome.


58 thoughts on “Peek-a-boo!

    1. I knew that monarchs are protected by their milkweed, but I didn’t realize that other butterfly species are similarly defended. When I found that these feed on plants in the carrot or parsley family, I looked those plants up, and sure enough — they have toxic qualities as well. The more I learn about these interconnections, the more wondrous they seem.

  1. One thing I’ve learned as a result of being a nature photographer is that of the eight pairs of legs possessed by most caterpillars, including your swallowtail, only the front three are true legs. The others are called prolegs, and we can see that they look different. If I’d written those things yesterday they would’ve been prologs to the prolegs in your picture.

    1. And I just learned, over at The Caterpillar Lab, that they mostly don’t use those true legs to get around. Instead, they use them for such things as eating; your photo of the Big Green Guy comes to mind. The prolegs help maintain stability as they move, but the system’s pretty complex. They’re amazing creatures.

    1. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve taken my eyes off something, only to have it ‘disappear’ into thin air. Even flowers will do it — kind of a neat trick for things that are rooted to the ground. I was lucky with this one. He wasn’t going anywhere, and I had that blue-eyed grass to use as a marker.

    1. Last year, I spotted exactly one caterpillar. This year, I’m already up to three, and each was a different species. If I find three every four months, I’ll have found nine by the end of the year — a personal best, for sure!

  2. *shudders* Ugh, this thing reminds me of the hornworm I found one year on my tomato plant. Yes, I know they’ve got to eat, too, but I don’t want to share my tomatoes with them. Nice capture, though I’m glad he’s there and not here!

    1. I remember your experience with the hornworm. If I were raising tomatoes, I’d not be too pleased to have those around, either. But this little gem isn’t going to bother your tomatoes. If you planted parsley, or fennel, or Queen Anne’s lace, it would be a different matter, since this one adores that kind of plant.
      Still, if it weren’t for caterpillars, we wouldn’t have any butterflies, and if it weren’t for caterpillars, a lot of baby birds would go hungry. Maybe we could petition Mother Nature to just send you good caterpillars from now on — the kind that will leave your garden alone!

    2. I’m fairly certain that my tomato plants don’t actually start to ripen fruit until (and unless!) the Hornworm starts to prune them. Losing a few leaves here and there never hurts, but I absolutely HATE it when they go cross-country and start indiscriminately chowing down on the still-green tomatoes.

        1. Well, apparently my vigilance is a good thing! As soon as I notice their frass (poo) getting to a certain size, the extermination begins. Once lightly rolled between two rocks – just enough to kill, but still intact for others to eat – the carcasses are left at the foot of the plant they came from to keep track of where I’ve been. System works pretty well; the plants are stimulated to ripen, but not be decimated…

    1. I thought so. I’ve gone nearly my whole life knowing almost nothing about butterflies and caterpillars, so every discovery is a big one. I really was pleased to get such nice views of all those legs, tucked around that little stem.

    1. I was especially pleased that I was able to reason out my initial misidentification. When I saw black, yellow, and white, of course I thought it was a monarch — mostly because that’s the only black, yellow, and white caterpillar I’ve found. But when I saw what it was eating, I realized it wasn’t milkweed, so it had to be a different species. I did an image search for ‘black, yellow, and white caterpillar,’ and it took about five seconds to figure it out. Exciting stuff.

  3. The green tint seems natural enough as the caterpillar itself is a bit on the greenish side. I have a planter that I keep on the table with my cacti where I plant parsley for the Black Swallowtails to lay eggs and several larvae have grown and devoured said plants. After they have metamorphosed the plants are leaf-barren but the parsley sprouts and we end up with garnish.

    1. Once I started reading about the swallowtails, I learned that they eat two of our native parsleys: Polytaenia texana (Texas Prairie Parsley) and Polytaenia nutallii (Nuttall’s Prairie Parsley). Neither of those is on the plant list for the Sandylands Sanctuary, but there are eight other members of the carrot family listed. All I need to do is go through the list and compare photos of those plants with the ones I took of the plant this one was munching on, and I’ll know what he was eating. Maybe.

      1. It’s a lot easier to ID the plant if you’ve bought it at a nursery.

        If you don’t have it already there is a helpful app for your phone. Sometimes it doesn’t get down to a positive species ID but makes several suggestions and people can also add to your tentatives.

        1. I do use iNaturalist, not only as an aid to identification but also as a way of finding out who’s seeing what, and where. I use it on my desktop rather than my phone, though, since my flip phone is limited to calls and texts. It does limit me in some ways, but it’s great fun comparing phone bills with my friends.

    1. Clearly, no one’s told the swallowtails that you’re not “supposed” to put stripes and polka dots together. My 8th grade home ec teacher would not approve, but she wasn’t nearly as much fun as Mother Nature.

        1. It was the era. There were a lot of ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’ in those days. Some were good, and I’d wish them back if I could. There were plenty that are well enough gone, and good riddance to them.

          1. Sorry Linda, sometimes my humour is just too subtle (I do so love a double-entendre) and my intention was to point out the actual composition – the stick(stripe) & period(dot) – of an exclamation point; ). Sorry, that’s a terribly convoluted explanation:/

            1. Maybe it’s not your subtle humor, but my lack of comprehension that’s at issue here. I thought you meant that the teacher herself was in need of… Oh, never mind. Now I’ve got it!

  4. Just as you can be relied upon by providing beautiful images, so do your readers amuse me. Steve with his wordplay, and today I have added another to my vocabulary – caterpiggle, love it! 😁

    1. Wordplay of all sorts is great fun. “Caterpiggle” reminds me of “caterwaul” — although no caterpiggle ever would be caught caterwauling. And of course there’s the Heffalump, from Winnie the Pooh. There probably are more, if we ponder it for a while.

      1. Pixel was misbehaving yesterday, on church grounds, and a friend quipped she was doing her cat-a-cism.

    1. When it comes to caterpillars, plump is good. There were a lot of gnawed stems around this one, so that may explain its torporous state. It took some serious wiggling around for me to get that view of its underside, and I was sure it would move. But it didn’t, so I managed to get all its little legs nicely lined up. I really do think they’re cute.

      1. Looks like it was about ready for the miracle of transformation to a butterfly, Linda. I got a few photos of caterpillars on my hike last year, but none with the self-satisfied/stuffed look of yours. –Curt

    1. I’d never thought of caterpillars as especially pretty, but I don’t remember them from my growing up years, either. They surely were around, but the only ones I knew were the woolly bears: the fuzzy brown and black ones some claimed could predict the severity of the coming winter.

      I really was surprised to find it. I’m glad I saw it before I stepped on it — or sat on it.

  5. It’s interesting that you see them so early in Texas, although I realize that you are much farther south than where we are. Having said that we should start to notice them in May. For the past three years we have raised Monarchs and Black Swallowtails indoors, a fascinating experience, and I think it provided the two little girls next door with their first real encounter with nature. They were present when a couple of the butterflies emerged from the chrysalis and their eyes were as big as saucers. I expect they will be over here to “help” this year.

    1. It’s hard to believe May is only two days away, but if that’s your usual time to begin finding them, they ought to begin appearing soon.

      I’ve been surprised to find how many people do raise them. I can’t remember being exposed to the process until well into adulthood; it certainly wasn’t part of our school curriculum all those years ago.
      One of the wildlife refuges I visit has a ‘discovery center’ where monarchs are raised, and I’ve been there when some children were able to watch an emerging butterfly. Their reaction was the same as your neighbor girls — and mine, for that matter.

  6. Beautiful captures of a gorgeous caterpillar. I haven’t seen any of these cats in my garden so far, but there must be some around, because the adults are flitting through.

    1. The butterflies are as pretty as the caterpillars. My long-held assumption that caterpillars generally are fuzzy, brown, slightly boring creatures has been proven oh, so wrong. I can’t wait to see what I find next!

    1. No — the blue-eyed grass caught my eye, and then I saw the caterpillar. Whatever it was feeding on looked like a member of the carrot family, but I’m not sure what it was. Two plants it favors in my area, Polytaenia texana (Texas Prairie Parsley) and Polytaenia nutallii (Nuttall’s Prairie Parsley) aren’t present in the Sandylands sanctuary, but there are eight members of the carrot family listed there, including chervil, wild carrot, and wild celery. The leaves on the plant the caterpillar was munching on certainly looked like carrot leaves. Somewhere I have a good photo of the leaves, but I’m behind in downloading and can’t find it right now.

    1. Now, if I just could learn what poison ivy looks like, I’ll be all set. You’d think a Renaissance Woman wouldn’t be so unobservant. Actually, it’s just that I’ve never run into it on the prairies and such, but now that I’m spending some time in the forest, I’m having to adapt to a new environment. I’ll learn.

      In any event, getting the photos was more than worth it. There’s something about these handsome creatures that I can’t resist, and these chubby, patterned ones are even cuter than the fuzzy ones.

      1. I’ve only had a reaction to poison ivy once, but my mother and sister were/are highly sensitive… Mother could just walk in the yard after someone had trimmed the vines, and she’d be sick for a week.. she was very fair skinned. Poison Ivy is also beautiful when it turns crimson in the fall.

        Down here we have nettles, but I’ve not seen anything with the power to make people ‘itchy miserable.’

        1. I discovered this weekend that the bull nettles are in full bloom. They’re gorgeous, but you may remember that their other name is stinging nettle. I’ve come in contact with the plant once, and that was enough for me. The defenses that some of these plants have are remarkable.

    1. Isn’t he cute? I found a couple more — different varieties — this past weekend. I guess it’s time for me to start learning about caterpillars, now.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.