2021 butterflies

The 2021 butterfly season is off to a quick start, with all 4 of my black swallowtail butterflies having emerged safely from their chrysalises. Keep watching here for the latest… I’m always learning something new! Coming soon… my newly revised and expanded guide to raising butterflies, Plant It and They Will Come

black swallowtail chrysalis "twitch"

I over-wintered 4 black swallowtail butterfly chrysalises in 2020. All 4 safely emerged in 2021! 

At left are a couple short videos of Ginger II (second female black swallowtail to emerge) twitching in the 24 hours before she emerged. The first is real-time video, the second is time lapse.

Monday, April 12, 2021 – around noon ~ 12:30 pm, I observed that the chrysalis had turned translucent. I set up tripods to record time lapse video with iPhone and iPad.

It takes a bit of luck to capture the full emergence on camera, and I’d done that last year. Although I did my best this year, I have sometimes gotten the feeling that some butterflies simply do not wish to be observed. I tried all kinds of tricks to observe her while fixing dinner (set up my Apple Watch to camera mode so I could observe the video feed from my iPhone remotely). By the time I went to bed, I was more stressed about her emerging successfully than getting the video. So I turned all the cameras off and went to bed.

She emerged the following morning just before noon and was hanging from the hydrangea next to the potted parsley plant which held her chrysalis! 

The tricky part about Ginger I and Ginger II is that they both chose to pupate on the potted parsley plant they’d been feeding on as caterpillars. As a result, they were in our sitting room next to other plants, including a potted Meyer lemon tree that spends its summers outside on our patio. I suspect the Meyer lemon brought a couple assassin bug chrysalises with it, and one of those hobbled Ginger I. Ginger I emerged successfully, but was not walking normally when I found her. Did did have a first flight, but did not live long… only 2 days after emerging.

So… I try to get my butterflies to pupate inside an emerging case, so I can protect them from predators. It also makes release outside a lot easier!


Ginger II Release - 4/13/2021

Finally, just before noon, Ginger II had emerged and was on the hydrangea. I checked on her periodically during the morning and had almost given up. It did not look like she was flight ready yet… still emitting fluid. I put the hydrangea in an emerging case. Nice day, sunny, high 61.

Just before 1 pm, maybe 12:50… I took the emerging case (pop-up IKEA laundry basket) and put it in the sun on the patio. 

12:54 pm, I observed her fluttering in the emerging case… first flight has occurred!

1:05 pm – Ginger II released.

Ginger III release attempt 4/17/2021

Ginger III (my third female black swallowtail to emerge in 2021) had successfully emerged in my yellow portable emerging case by 2:52 pm, Saturday April 17th.

It was a cool rainy day, only about 57F… not ideal conditions for a butterfly’s first flight. I gave her the option though… see video at left.

The nice thing about Ginger III, was that I’d managed to get her into my emerging case before she pupated, so she was safe from the assassin bug that partially crippled Ginger I, and I didn’t have to handle her to get her to a safe emerging case while waiting for the weather to clear up.


Ginger III Release 4/18/2021

Sunday, April 18th, ~10:40 am, Ginger III released.

This video highlights the use of the portable emerging case that I made. Unlike the IKEA pop-up laundry baskets that I also use, this emerging case has zipper openings on the top and along one side. It’s also very compact, and I’ve been able to travel with it easily.

So, if you have some basic sewing skills, you can make your own emerging case! Comes in handy!

I did lose a black swallowtail caterpillar last year to a wasp that apparently had managed to get under the lid of the IKEA laundry basket (some wasps lay their eggs in caterpillars, and their young parasitize the caterpillar, killing it). At the time, I was leaving potted parsley plants with black swallowtail caterpillars in IKEA laundry baskets on the patio, so that the plants and caterpillars could get as much sun as possible, while protecting them from predators.


Zebra swallowtail laying eggs!

I planted PawPaw trees (Asimina triloba) ~ 20 years ago because 1) it’s the larval food of the zebra swallowtail, and 2) for the fruit.

On Friday, August 13, I was lucky enough to witness my second zebra swallowtail female laying eggs on some of my PawPaw seedlings! (My first sighting was in 2019… and I was able to raise one caterpillar to adult that year!)

Below are some flight photos extracted from the video, followed by some egg photos on different days … unfortunately, I didn’t get a caterpillar out of this egg!

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