Giant Swallowtails (Papilio cresphontes)

For the last couple of summers, Nancy has been working hard to ‘branch out’ with a larger selection of (native) butterfly host and nectar plants around the yard to bring a greater variety of butterflies to the neighborhood. It is starting to pay off. Besides our Monarchs, we’ve seen more Zebra Heliconians (our state butterfly, formerly known as the zebra longwing), we’ve seen Polydamas and Giant Swallowtails, we’ve seen one of the Duskywings (the Zarucco, I think), a few Sulphurs, and even some Atalas. We’ve recently seen chrysalises of the Atalas and then the Giant Swallowtails. Earlier this month, I expanded our explanation of the Atala Butterfly life cycle on that page of our website (www.BeeHappyGraphics.com/gallery/atala.html). Now I’m going to tell you a few things about the life cycle of a Giant Swallowtail Butterfly.

The Egg

For this discussion, we will start with a single, 1 to 1.5 millimeter (just under 1/16“) cream to brown colored egg with orange secretions, on the upper surface of a leaf. It is laid on members of the citrus family, the giant swallowtail’s host plants, represented in our case by wild lime. The egg lasts four to ten days before hatching, depending on the temperature and host plant.

The Caterpillar

Small Larva of Giant Swallowtail Butterfly
Figure 1: early phase (instar) of giant swallowtail caterpillar. Its head is to the right.

The larva (a.k.a. caterpillar) then goes through five instars (periods between molts) which, unlike the monarch butterfly instars, all look different. The first instar has hairs. The next instars have been compared to bird poop. The younger instars are more realistic-looking as bird droppings with more contrast than the later instars (shown in Figure 2). They rest on top of the leaf and are nocturnal (which makes sense – being seen moving around during the day could blow their disguise). The more mature instars rest on the stems and have been theorized to resemble small snake heads. These caterpillars also have a red, antenna-like osmeterium, which is not usually visible (and which we have not yet seen).

Larger Caterpillar and Chrysalis of Giant Swallowtail Butterfly
Figure 2: larger giant swallowtail larva on the left side of the branch (head up) and chrysalis on right side.

The Chrysalis

After three or four weeks, when it reaches a length of about two inches (5 cm), the larva will pupate. It could form the chrysalis (not to be confused with a ‘cacoon’, which is just an outer protective cover spun by a moth larvae for their chrysalis) right on the stem of the host plant (unlike the monarchlife cycle, who because its host plant is an easily devourable species of milkweed, must travel up to twenty feet to find a safe place to pupate, or the Atala, for which all sibling larvae pupate together so they don’t have to worry about their late-developing siblings coming by and eating them onto the ground), or it could travel a short distance to a vertical surface. As seen in the above picture, the chrysalis hangs tail-down at an angle of about 45° to the structure with its top suspended from silken threads. The pupa (a more general name for chrysalis that can be also applied to all metamorphizing insects, not just butterflies and moths) will last from ten to more than twelve days before emerging into an adult. Unlike the monarch, we have not noticed the giant swallowtail chrysalis changing color over time.

The Adult

Giant Swallowtail Butterfly
Figure 3: adult giant swallowtail butterfly. (Notice chrysalis below it.)

As shown in Figure 3, the adult is black with yellow trim on the top, and could possibly be confused with other black-and-yellow swallowtails like the Black Swallowtaildescribed (and very-rarely-seen species like the Schaus’described and Bahaman Swallowtailsdescribed). The underside of this butterfly (not shown (yet)) is predominantly a light yellow. The adult lives six to fourteen days. This butterfly lives in the near-coastal areas from Florida through the Carolinas (compared to the black swallowtail, which extends north just beyond Massachusetts).

Epilogue

Nancy took all of the pictures shown in this article. As you noticed, we haven’t yet photographically documented the entire life cycle of this butterfly, and I don’t know when Nancy will be satisfied enough with her pictures to add an image of the giant swallowtail to our commercial collection. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Besides our personal experience, we have relied on a number of resources, including University of Florida Entomology and Nematology Department and Butterflies of the East Coast: an observer’s guide by Rick Cech and Guy Tudor, as well as the links highlighted throughout the article.

Everglades Update

Last updated on July 23rd, 2019 at 04:53 pm

We were in the Flamingo campground of Everglades National Park for Christmas. We had made our reservations in August, but when the federal government shut down we were concerned, so we called them. Turns out there were no rangers, so nobody was collecting the $25 park entrance fee (we had already paid the campground fee), but the gates were not locked and their concessionaires were manning the visitor center and keeping the facilities functional. This is considered the busy season for this park and they get a lot of international visitors (who were predominantly Chinese on this trip).

The first day we went canoeing to Snake Bight, which is the bay to the left as you paddle out the channel. We followed that small unmarked channel along the shoreline as far as it would go – technically further, because for the last half of our route the water depth was probably about an inch less than our draft. It is really soft mud in that section, which cut our cruising speed to below two miles an hour. It was an incoming tide; otherwise one would have to be careful not to get stuck. If you tried to get out of the canoe you would sink up to your knees, so if you did get stuck you would have to wait for the next high tide, which could be up to twelve hours later. We did see, and get pictures of a number of birds feeding on the flats, including plenty of roseate spoonbills (sorry, no flamingos this time). Below is a picture of Nancy at work. As you can see, the “channel” is to our right and the mud to the left. Ahead is a flock of white pelicans. This channel would peter out just a little ways ahead – still a little too far away to get good pelican shots.

Fate Of The Osprey Nest

The osprey nest that was the subject of Nancy’s current favorite image, Osprey Family, is gone. The whole snag was blown over during Hurricane Irma fifteen months ago.

My Answer To “What’s Wrong With This Picture”

Last updated on December 19th, 2018 at 10:09 am

Background

Several days ago, I showed a photograph and asked: “What’s Wrong With This Picture”.  Here is more information.

Sideways Moon (overview)

Nancy took this overview a minute later. Both were taken in March 2016, while we were on a trip to Antarctica. The mountains (and snow) in the first picture should have told you “we’re not in Kansas (or Florida), anymore.”video The moon in both pictures is waxing (growing) gibbous (more than half full), meaning the full moon would be five days later. Those are Gentoo penguins you see in this picture. She took these photos on the way back to the ship after our morning excursion, as I remember.

My Answers

Although I was a bit surprised nobody mentioned that the moon, as the subject of the first picture, was too centered, thus violating the rule of thirds, one member of my camera club did think the image confusing because she wasn’t sure what the subject was.  That was a completely valid point and was probably why Nancy had to be coaxed into taking that picture.    The overview shown above might be better in that respect, but here is why I (the technical support guy) found the image interesting:

The moon and the sun follow similar paths across the sky and the lighted part of the moon always points directly toward the sun along that path.  Every time I’ve ever seen the moon just above the horizon, it was pointing almost straight up (or down).  The moon in these two pictures is pointing to the left, a difference of almost 90° from my normal.

The mountains give almost no locational clue, but the snow at sea level tells you that we are not that close to the equator and the penguins tell us which hemisphere we are in (the specific species will narrow down the possible locations even further).  The angle of the moon does the best job, however, of narrowing the geographical possibilities – showing that we were close to the (Ant)arctic Circle.

To get the same effect with Photoshop wouldn’t be that hard, but would take more than just cropping.  And this effect doesn’t fall in the impossible range, like a star between the tips of a crescent moon, or maybe either type of eclipse during the quarter moon, so it is unlikely to be found in a unicorn shot or the like.  It is just a very unusual perspective that I wanted to appreciate for what it was and share with my friends.

By the way, this is the third article (set) I’ve published in the last three weeks involving the moon.  But fear not, I’m ready to move on.  Thank you for listening.

“Red Panda” Added To Website

Last updated on July 23rd, 2019 at 04:54 pm

Red Panda
This picture of a red panda was taken on our trip to China

Nancy took this photograph at the second of two giant panda breeding research bases we visited around Chengdu, China on a tour with our second favorite tour group, Natural Habitat Adventures.  It was at the first base that we got our Giant Panda in Tree and Giant Panda in Tree, which we made available a couple of years after the trip.  We made this red panda image available just recently. For more information, go to Red Panda.

While at this research base, we also had the opportunity to hold a red panda.  Here is a picture of Nancy taken by our guide, Philip He.

Nancy Holding Red Panda
Nancy Holding Red Panda

Woodstock Is No More

I guess now it’s really official – after 36 years, the Woodstock Arts & Crafts Festival will no longer be in Welleby Park in Sunrise the first weekend of December. This is very sad. They actually announced that they were hanging it up several months ago, but maybe I was just having trouble accepting reality. This morning I got word that they took down their website.

We participated five times in Woodstock, won a few awards, and because of their character, they had become probably our favorite festival. And after we decided to stop doing shows in Miami, this Sunrise show became the best opportunity for our hometown friends to see us in action. Penni and her posse have done a lot of good for their community over the years and we will miss them.

For those in the Miami-Dade delegation for whom life must go on, your best chance to see Nancy’s work is now the fledgling festival in Tamarac. Their third annual get-together should be the first weekend next April (2018). They are another small show that is developing their own charm. I’ll have more information about that festival as it becomes available. By then, they will have updated their website.

Another Dumb Question Husbands Shouldn’t Ask

Last updated on July 23rd, 2019 at 05:03 pm

When Nancy was risking her life for your possible viewing pleasure by balancing on top of our canoe on top of our van in Flamingo, Florida trying to get shots of the ospreys for Osprey Family, I asked a really stupid question. I was on the ground (the ladder to the roof of the van has a 150 lb weight limit) and there was a lull in the picture-taking. Maybe the sun got to me, or maybe I had too much time on my hands, or maybe I was just trying to be clever or funny, but I asked her “If you fall, do you want me to catch you or the camera?” As soon as the words left my mouth I knew I had made a mistake. Immediately, she answered, “Catch the camera!”

I’ve heard of husbands asking their wives what they wanted for their anniversary or birthday, and getting a reply like “Oh, I don’t want you to make a fuss”, or something like that, and the husband actually not getting or doing anything to make a fuss, only to find out the hard way that wasn’t exactly what their wives had in mind.  I thought I was too smart for that.  Now we know.  If any of you were to ask what I plan to do now, my official answer is “catch the camera” of course (so don’t even bother asking until after such a situation arises).  But you might want to keep in mind that, although it depends on the state of your marriage at the time, I’m guessing for most of you it would be a lot cheaper and less hassle and agony to replace the camera equipment than the marriage.  Just saying.  Act accordingly.  The only thing is that if you are stupid enough to ask a question like that, then either action will earn you some grief.  I’m sure you’ll recognize that the grief can only be considered self-inflicted and you’ll do the right thing.

Nancy at Lake Wailes Park taking pictures of great horned owl chicks in a nest in the fork of a tree.
Nancy at Lake Wailes Park taking pictures of great horned owl chicks in a nest in the fork of a tree.

My hands were full (as explained below) and I didn’t yet have a smartphone with a camera when Nancy got the osprey shots, so the above picture is for illustration purposes only.

To see the Note click here.To hide the Note click here.
This picture was taken with the Samsung Galaxy J1. It has a 5-megapixel camera, which would be fine for things like this blog if the focus wasn’t so bad. Other things I didn’t like about the camera were the shortcuts constantly disappearing and the battery life deteriorating terribly in less than six months. I finally had to replace it with a Motorola Turbo after eight months because I outgrew the 8 GB of memory (I added a 32 GB SD card, but since apps typically stored only half of the program on the SD card, there’s no point in getting an SD card much larger than 8 GB).
This picture differs from the scene in Flamingo in two important ways:

  1. The baby owl she is taking a picture of in this picture is much lower in the tree and she feels no need to stand on the canoe behind her to risk her life for the shot.
  2. The flash is mounted on the camera. Normally, she uses a Pocket Wizardwebsite remote trigger, with a miniTT1 transmitter on the camera and FlexTT5 transceiver on the flash. The flash is then held by a voice-controlled semi-autonomous mobile bipod (that would be me). In either case, the Better Beamerreview attached to the flash does a good job of focusing the flash so it can reach farther into the canopy on her bird images.

Why You Haven’t Seen Any Painted Buntings

Last updated on July 7th, 2019 at 10:43 pm

If you could imagine being a small bird (buntings, being medium-sized finches, are about five inches long) and sticking out like a sore thumb as the male does in these pictures Male Painted Bunting and Painted Bunting Pair with predators all about, you might be a little self-conscious. Painted buntings tend to be secretive and skittish, and can be found in thickets, woodland edges, shrubbery, and brushy areas. They won’t venture too far into the open to get their food. From what I’ve seen, females are less reclusive than males.

If you are in the painted bunting’s range (the Carolinas south through Florida for the eastern population) and provide the right habitat and food, you can have your own painted buntings. Our painted buntings breed from about Jacksonville, Florida north through the Carolinas, but from October to mid-April they winter in southern Florida (as well as Cuba and the Bahamas). Nancy has always been a gardener and has planted a variety of plants to attract hummingbirds and butterflies, so we have plenty of cover. When she made it her mission to attract the buntings, she bought them their own feeder; it was a tube feeder (she likes the ones from Stokes or Droll Yankees)

To see the Note click here.To hide the Note click here.
We don’t get anything from either one of these companies. Nor have we done exhaustive research into all available bird feeder options. We are just giving you our experience, and providing these links for your convenience.   Comments on your experiences relating to this topic are certainly welcome.

with a squirrel cage, and the wire spacing on the cage was such that even the larger birds couldn’t get in. She placed the feeder in a small Jatropha tree right next to the flower bushes, not out in the open. Buntings like small seeds – sunflower seeds are too large. Millet may be their favorite but isn’t strictly necessary. Nancy uses a songbird mix that has a number of small seeds (including millet). Within two weeks of putting up the feeder, she had two males and seven females. Of course, trying to get a good picture is another storyblog.

How To Attract Painted Buntings To Your Yard

  1. Provide thick shelter. Remember, they are reclusive. The more flamboyant males are even more reclusive.
  2. Feed them. If your neighbor becomes jealous and starts to compete for your painted buntings, try adding a bird bath. I’ve been told this could give you the edge you need.
  3. Pray. Also, keep in mind they are most active (feeding) in the early morning and late afternoon. Good luck.

If you live in South Florida you now have about two months to get your yard ready for these winter residents. You’d better get busy.

Epilogue

It is clear that the painted bunting’s behavior is affected by its physical characteristics. There are risks associated with flamboyance. Somewhere along their evolutionary path, male painted buntings had to choose between bright colors for better sex or more obscure colors for longer life. Speaking for males everywhere, that was a no-brainer.

Afterword

Concerned that I may be warping, or at least oversimplifying science (possibly by anthropomorphismdefined, among other things), I invited my editor, trained biologist, and authorBook 1, Book 2 April Kirkendoll, to keep me honest. Here are some of her comments:

As your blog is fairly informal, a few anthropomorphisms are allowed.

As to actual biology, in bird species where a one-night stand and hitting on multiple females is the preferred method of child-making, flamboyance is the rule. “Sex is more important than long life for playboys” might be the male perspective, while “Guys are only good for one thing, so who needs a lot of ’em around?” could be the female perspective.

To see the Note click here.To hide the Note click here.
clearly more cases of anthropomorphism
One sprightly alert male can pass on plenty of wily genes, and if he’s still alive to court you, he’s a good candidate for fatherhood. As a bonus, if the hawk is attracted to the brightly colored male, it may not notice the female, so she can go about her child-rearing in peace. Or the predator could simply be full by the time it notices the female.

In bird species where child-rearing is a shared business, males and females are similarly colored. Single momhood must be more difficult (or those females simply refuse to have sex without commitment, probably because single momhood is so hard). Males can’t just doink and run; they have to stick around and provide housing, protection, and/or food. They have to live longer in order for the species to continue.

Monogamy among birds ranges from 70-90%, depending on what you read and how you determine monogamy and pairing. Sexual dichromatism

To see the Note click here.To hide the Note click here.
Sexual dichromatism is a form of sexual dimorphism. Most sources, like Wikipedia redirect to the more general term, where you can find your definition at the bottom of the page. Click here for the short answer.

varies according to the amount of work the male puts into child-rearing. Basically, the more the color differences between genders, the less child-rearing the mate does. Females aren’t always the drab ones.

Postscript

For even more information on April’s last point, I contacted Brian Rapoza, a world-renowned birder, authorbook, teacher, and field trip coordinator for Tropical Audubon Societywebsite.

To see the Note click here.To hide the Note click here.
Again, although I can personally recommend the books of both of these people, they are our friends and we receive nothing for these endorsements, either directly or indirectly. Brian did use three of Nancy’s photographs in his book, so if you bring your copy of his book to our booth and can show us one of those pictures, I will give you five dollars ($5) off of any purchase. If you show us your copy of one of April’s books, we will give you four dollars ($4) off, even if you can’t find one of Nancy’s pictures.
As an example of birds of which the female was NOT the drab one, Brian pointed to birds in the genus Phalaropus. The Red-necked phalarope, the Red phalarope, and less commonly the Wilson’s phalarope migrate past Florida in the Atlantic Ocean to nest in the Arctic. Although not nearly as flamboyant as the painted bunting, the female of these species is more colorful than the male, and, consistent with April’s comments, it is the male who incubates the eggs and cares for the young.