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Butterflies - The Swallowtails

( Originally Published 1917 )

FAMILY Papilionidae

This is probably the most distinctive family of all our familiar butterflies. Its members are characterized by being on the whole the largest butterflies in our region and by having the hind wings prolonged into curious tail-like projections, suggestive of those of a swallow. In general, the basal color of the wings is blackish though this is commonly marked in various striking ways with yellow, green, or blue, while the margins of the wings are commonly adorned with red or orange spots. These butterflies are also characterized by certain peculiarities in the branching of the wing veins which will be found pictured in more technical works.

The caterpillars of these butterflies have the characteristic form pictured on the plate of the Swallowtails opposite page 80. When full grown they are large, fairly smooth-bodied worms, showing at most on the surface sparse fine hairs or fleshy threadlike projections. Their most characteristic feature is found in the scent organs called osmateria situated in the back just behind the head. These are thrust out, generally, when the caterpillar if disturbed and appear as orange Y or V shaped organs from which an offensive odor is commonly given off. They are supposed to serve the purpose of preventing injury by enemies, possibly birds, monkeys, and other vertebrates. Structurally, they are like long tubular pockets that can be turned inside out. When the pocket is in place it is getting a pocketful of odors. When it is inverted it lets these odors free. On this account Professor Comstock has aptly called these caterpillars "the polecats of the insect world."

When ready to pupate, these Papilio caterpillars spin a web of silk upon some more or less flattened surface and a loop of silk near by. They entangle their hind legs in the former and keep their heads through the latter so the loop supports the body a little behind the head. Then they change to chrysalids which are held in place by these sets of silken threads.

The chrysalids are rather large and angular and generally take on colors approximating their surroundings. They vary so much in different species that one fa familiar with them can recognize the chrysalis and know the kind of butterfly it will produce.

The Black Swallowtail

Papilio polyxenes

While the Black Swallowtail is not so large as some other members of the group, it is probably the best known to mast people. It is found throughout many months of the year in practically all parts of North America south of Canada, and has the habit of flying freely about fields and gardens in search of flowers from which to suck its nectar food, and of plants on which to deposit its eggs. The female butterflies have a remarkable ability in selecting only members of the great family Umbelliferae for this purpose. In consequence the caterpillars are generally to be found feeding upon carrots, parsnips, parsley, and various wild species belonging to this order.

The eggs of the Black Swallowtail are laid one in a place upon the leaves of the food plant. Each egg is small, yellowish, smooth, and ovoid object. It may often be found by watching the butterflies as they fly low in search of umbelliferous plants, and seeing one stop for a minute or so while she lays the egg.

About ten days after the egg is laid it hatches into a small black caterpillar marked in a characteristic fashion with a blotch of white in the middle of the body which is suggestive of a saddle. The caterpillar immediately be-gins to feed upon the green substance of the leaf, continuing thus about a week before the first moult. At this time it does not change much in appearannce still being a spiny creature blackish in color and marked by the curious white saddle. A little later it moults again, retaining its original coloring. At each moult, of course, it gets larger and feeds mole freely upon the celery or other plant on which it may happen to be.

When the caterpillar becomes about half grown it takes on a very different appearance from that of its early life. The skin is smooth rather than spiny, and the general colors are green, black, and yellow. The ground color of the skin is green, which is marked with black cross-bands along the middle of each body ring. On these bands there are many large dots of orange yellow, the whole coloring giving the insect a very striking appear. ance, especially. when it is placed by itself against a plain background. When they finally become full, grown in this larva state, these caterpillars are almost two inches long.

The larvae of the Black Swallowtail have certain characteristics in which they differ from many other caterpillars. After each moult they do not devour their cast skins, which happens in the case of many of their relatives. When feeding, as well as when resting, they remain exposed upon the leaf and seem never to attempt to conceal themselves, as is the habit with a large proportion of caterpillars. It is probable that this instinct for remaining exposed to view bears some relation to the curious means of protection possessed by this as well as other Swallowtail caterpillars. When disturbed one of these larvae will push out from just back of the head the strange-looking, orange-yellow Y-shaped organ which gives off a very disagreeable odor. These osmateria organs are generally believed to be defensive against the attack of birds and various other enemies, although they seem not to be effective sect parasites.

The full grown caterpillars are likely to leave their food plants when ready to change to the chrysalis state. They wander in various directions until suitable shelter is found. A piece of board, a fence post, or possibly the bark of a tree will answer for this purpose. Here the caterpillar spins a mat of silk in which to entangle its hind legs and a short distance away near the front end of the body it spins a loop of silk attaching the ends to the support. These serve to hold the chrysalis in place during this helpless period. After the loop is made the caterpillar keeps its head through it so that the loop holds the insect in position a short distance back of the head. It is now ready to moult its last caterpillar skin and become a chrysalis.

One who has watched hundreds of these caterpillars go through this change, Miss Mary C. Dickerson, describes the process in these words: "In this final moult the chrysalis has to work very hard. The bulk of the body is again slipped forward in the loosened caterpillar skin, so that this becomes tensely stretched over the anterior end, and very much wrinkled at the posterior end. The skin splits back of the head and is forced back by its own taut condition and by the efforts of the chrysalis, until only the extreme posterior end of the chrysalis is within it. Then the chrysalis withdraws this posterior end with its many very tiny hooks, from the skin on the dorsal side, and, reaching around, securely fastens the hooks into the button of silk. Then the old skin is removed both from its fastening to the chrysalis and from its attachment in the button of silk."

A short time after the caterpillar's skin has thus been cast off the chrysalis takes on a brownish color which as is so often the case is likely to vary somewhat according to the tint of the surrounding surfaces. 'This is doubtless a protective device and helps the insect to escape attack by birds during the long period of exposure. For this butterfly passes through the winter only in the chrysalis condition, and the larva which went into the chrysalis in September does not come out as a butterfly until the following May or June. There are, however, two broods of the butterflies in the North and at least three in the South. As the adults live for about two months and there is considerable variation in the periods of their development it happens that one can find these Black Swallowtail butter-flies upon the wing almost any time in warm weather, either North or South.

The Giant Swallowtail

Papilio thoas

The largest of our North American butterflies is a magnificent insect with a wing expanse of some four inches and with a rich coloring of black and yellow more or less ads fused with greenish or bluish iridescence that gives it a striking beauty as it flies leisurely about from flower to flower or stops to lay an egg upon some bush or tree. The tails are long and expanded toward the tip, their prevailing color being black with a broad splash of yellow near the end. In a general way we may say that the upper wing surface is black marked with two bands of orange-yellow, while the under surface is yellow marked with two bands of black.

The Giant Swallowtail is a tropical species which is abundant throughout the Southern states and during re-cent years seems to have been gradually extending its northern range. It is now commonly found as far north as forty-two degrees latitude, from Nebraska eastward. In New England it is occasionally taken in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and even in Maine, but its appearance in this region is exceptional.

In the orange-growing regions of the Southern states the caterpillars of this butterfly feed freely upon the leaves of citrus fruits and they are often called "orange puppies" or "orange dogs." Probably their curious appearance and their habit of resting for long periods upon leaf or twig gave rise to this name. In the region indicated the life history of the insect may be summarized thus:

The mother butterfly deposits the eggs singly upon the young growth of orange or other citrus fruit trees, generally near the tips of leaves or branches. About a week later each egg hatches into a caterpillar that feeds upon the young leaves, resting upon the lower surface when not eating. After a few days of this feeding the caterpillar becomes too large for the skin with which it was born and it moults, coming forth with a new skin which soon hardens so that it can begin feeding again. A week or so later it moults for the second time, and continues these processes of feeding and moulting until full grown, which is perhaps a month from the time of hatching from the egg. At first the caterpillars eat only the succulent young leaves and brandies, but as they grow larger they feed more freely upon the older foliage. They are very voracious and when abundant may often do much damage especially to young trees. When ready to change to the chrysalis each caterpillar attaches itself by silken threads to the bark of. the trunk or branch of the tree. Here it changes to a chrysalis which takes on a color so similar to that of the bark that the insect is surprisingly difficult to discover. A fort-night or so later it changes again into a fully developed butterfly that sallies forth in search of the nectar of flowers.

These "orange dogs," like the caterpillars of other Swallowtail butterflies, have curious yellow scent organs which, when the caterpillar is disturbed, protrude from the upper surface just behind the head. These give forth a very disagreeable odor which is believed to serve the purpose of repelling birds and possibly other enemies. It has been noticed that these caterpillars are not molested by birds al-though they are attacked by various insect enemies. Each mother butterfly is known to be able to deposit four or five hundred eggs and it has been suggested that the injuries of the caterpillars may be checked by shooting the butterfly upon the wing with cartridges loaded with small bird shot. In the South there are several broods in a season.

The life-history of this species in more northern regions differs in the choice of the food plant and the number of broods. It feeds upon various members of the rue family, including common rue and prickly ash, as well as upon certain poplars and probably other trees. It is two brooded and apparently winters as a chrysalis. The butterflies of the first brood come from the chrysalis about the last of May and are found on the wing during June. Those of the second brood come from the chrysalis about the last of July and are found on the wing during August and September. The length of time required from the laying of the egg to the emergence of the butterfly varies greatly with the locality and the temperature. It commonly extends over a period of four or five weeks.

The Blue Swallowtail

Laertias philenor The Blue Swallowtail is said to have closer affinity with the splendid butterflies of the tropics than most of our other Papilios. The sheen of metallic color upon its wings is certainly suggestive of the broad expanse of similar colorings in the gorgeous butterflies from South America. This species is easily recognized by the general blackness of the front wings and the basal parts of the hind ones as seen from above, about two thirds of the area of the latter being overlaid with blue green scales that give the metallic lustre characteristic of the species. Near the outer border of the basal half of the front wings there is a row of about five rather indistinct whitish spots, this row being continued more distinctly on the hind wings. On the under surface the white spots of the front wings are more pronounced than on the upper, while each hind wing is brilliantly marked with about seven large orange spots, part of them fringed on one or both sides with a distinct margin of white. The extreme side borders of all four wings are distinctly marked with white crescents and the fringes on the tails as well as more or less of the darker fringes of the hind wings are of a beautiful purple color. In the males each hind wing has along the inner border a slender, pocket-like depression which is said to be the seat of the scent organs.

This splendid butterfly is a southern species. It is found from the Carolinas to California, being at times extremely abundant in certain localities over this great region. It seldom occurs as far north as New England and in a general way east of the Rocky Mountains its northern limit approximates that of forty-three degrees of latitude. It varies considerably in size and differs greatly in abundance in different localities and different seasons.

Probably the commonest food plant of the caterpillars is the Dutchman's Pipe or Aristolochia, which is frequently planted as an ornamental vine for porch adornment. It also feeds upon wild ginger or Asarum and probably upon other plants. A dozen or more eggs are laid upon a leaf by the mother butterfly, usually in a cluster or grouped near together. They hatch a week or so later into small brownish caterpillars which remain together for awhile in little groups that feed side by side upon the leaf, beginning at the margin and working toward the centre. As they become larger they feed more freely and gradually disperse so that each forages for himself. As they approach maturity their appetites become voracious and their presence is often shown by the defoliated condition of the branches. They have back of the head the osmateria or scent organs which are commonly found in the other caterpillars of this genus, but the odor emitted by them is likely to be less pronounced than usual.

When full grown the caterpillars find such shelter as they may and each spins a bit of silken web and a silken Ioop which hold it while it changes to the chrysalis. This chrysalis is very likely to take on the colors of the imniediate surroundings and thus be rather difficult to see. If the egg was laid by one of the spring or early summer butter-flies, the chrysalis will soon change to a butterfly which will appear toward midsummer and which may Iay eggs for another food of caterpillars. These caterpillars mature to chrysalids the same season and some of them are believed to change into butterflies in autumn, these butterflies hibernating through the winter; while others are believed to remain unchanged through the winter and disclose the butterfly the following spring. This is an exceptional condition for the Swallowtails and it is worth while to make careful observations along its northern limits to learn more definitely the facts as to the winter condition.

The Green-clouded Swallowtail

Papilio troilus

This beautiful butterfly is essentially a southern species and is found over a wide range of territory from the Mississippi River to the Atlantic Ocean. It occurs as far north as New Hampshire and Vermont and has even been reported from Alberta, Canada. It is easily recognized by the blue-green clouding of the upper surface of the wings, the general color being -velvety black with distinctive rows of yellow spots along the margins of the front wing. These spots are present also on the hind wing where they are almost changed to blue because overlaid with a general cloudiness of this color. On the under surface of the hind wings there are two rows of orange-brown spots, the inner row being nearly crescent-shaped and the outer row oblong. In the living insect the tail projections on the hind wings are usually twisted into a vertical plane at right angles to the plane of the wings.

The caterpillars of this species feed upon the leaves of sassafras and spice bush. The distribution of the butterfly appears to be closely related to the distribution of these plants.

As is the case with so many of our Swallowtail butterflies, the Green clouded Swallowtail passes through the winter in the chrysalis stage. Late in spring the butter- flies emerge and soon afterward lay their eggs singly upon the leaves of sassafras or spice bush. The eggs soon hatch into lead-colored caterpillars, largely covered with spiny warts. Each caterpillar cleverly makes a protecting nest by eating out a narrow strip in the leaf which frees a flap along the 'margin that is turned back upon the leaf, making a case in which the larva lives. It spins a silken carpet on one side of the case and rests upon this car-pet when at home. During its feeding periods it goes outside and eats the tissues of the other parts of the same leaf. It continues to occupy this first nest for a week or more by which time the rest of the leaf is likely to be pretty well consumed.

Having passed the first moult and thus become larger and having practically eaten itself out of its first house and home the caterpillar now crawls to a larger leaf where it proceeds to make a more enduring structure. In this case it does not need to bite a channel along one side of the midrib as it did before, but instead it begins to spin silken threads transversely across the upper surface in such away as to fold over the border of the leaf and make a tubular chamber in which it has plenty of room to move about. It uses this as its home for some time thereafter, wandering out at evening to feed upon neighboring leaves as its hunger necessitates. In this way it continues to feed and grow for a week or two. Then it finds it necessary to construct still another home, which it does by bringing together the opposite sides of a leaf, taking care to have a door-like opening at the base of the blade next the leaf stalk. This third home serves it to the end of its larval existence. It goes in and out as necessary, remaining concealed when it casts its skin and until the body tissues harden afterward. Apparently it devours the cast skin and thrusts the hard covering of the head out of the nest. Consequently these little homes are clean and sanitary and serve admirably their protecting purpose.

The full-grown caterpillars have the curious appearance of those of the other Swallowtails. The third ring behind the head is greatly swollen, making, with the rings directly in front of it, a characteristic picture suggesting a grotesque face with large eye like spots at the top. The general color is green, darker above than below, and there are six rows of blue dots along the body.

When ready to change to the chrysalis, the caterpillars desert their leafy homes and on a twig or board or stone each spins a bit of silken webbing and a silken loop. They now change to clhrysalids which are likely to resemble the color of the background and which are somewhat smoother than many of the Swallowtail chrysalids. About two weeks later the butterflies emerge.

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