Thursday, April 24, 2008

Giant Swallowtail Larvae

Last week, while gathering limerock for the waterfolly, I found giant swallowtail larvae pretending to be bird droppings.
They were in the tractor shoved piles of rock and log that my friend had created when he carved out a small sunny clearing in his dense swampy piece of land.

The caterpillars were on the small green shrub at the end of the log ... not the fern. Pretty snaky location and I think that is why I noticed the caterpillars ... I go slow and look carefully when I expect to encounter snakes of unknown disposition.

Perfect moccasin habitat ... there's a pond about 20 feet away.

Poop mimicry or alien being from beyond our solar system?

Profile shot. Shhhh ... don't tell him he looks like sh*#!


This one is still poopy looking, but the appearance changes as they mature.
Later, the head is more of a serpent mimic ... instead of disgusting avian predators, the caterpillars attempt to trigger an avoidance response just as I do when I hang rubber snakes in my blueberry bushes.

These pics were taken at my friend's property, but coincidentally, when I got home, I found the same type of caterpillar munching on my baby Satsuma citrus tree. The PFHQ swallowtail larvae are more advanced in age and are already sporting a serpenty head.

At least one of them is going in to school with me Friday as the larval humans (7th graders) and I are studying Arthropods.
They'll love these caterpillars.

Anything involving poop is highly fascinating to them.

19 comments:

pablo said...

Amazing what a person can see if he looks. I should try it sometime.

cedrorum said...

"poopy looking", another great florida crackerism. You are good. Great post, I'd never seen these before.

AKA - valown. Yes, I changed my identity yet again.

dani813 said...

Out of all the cats that I raise,these are my favorite.

Hurricane Teen said...

We've got these guys on our citrus trees, too. You actually ID'd a photo I posted quite a while back when I didn't know what they were. Yours have more fecal characteristics, though. (How often do you hear that as a complement??)

Dr. Know said...

Great find, FC. I have an annoying habit of collecting the more unusual larvae and allowing(?) them to pupate in a screened box built for that purpose. There are many native host plants provided for a variety of species. I discovered that, around here anyway, spiders attack most of the unprotected pupae and drain them - leaving a lifeless husk. And it's pretty cool to release them en masse after eclosion.

Dr. Know said...

Anything involving poop is highly fascinating to them.

I'm sure Freud would be enthralled...

Doug Taron said...

Do you have a picture of the one that you took to school? If it looks serpenty, it may not be a giant swallowtail They resemble bird droppings throughout their larval stage. There are several other species that develop large false eyespots as they mature.

robin andrea said...

This is such a great example of poop camouflage as evolutionary selective advantage. What critter in their right mind would want to take a bite out of that? Ugh.

You remind me that I found a swallowtail larvae last year with those large false eyespots. I should keep my real eyes open for such a find again.

Anonymous said...

Any photos of their "post-poop" stage?

Woodie

SwampAngel65 said...

So gross...and yet, so cool. Nature never ceases to fascinate me! Thanks for showing us those cats. I've never seen them before!

Dr. Know said...

For anyone that interested, the first instars of the Spicebush Swallowtail larvae practice poo mimicry. I seem to recall seeing a picture of a 3rd instar Palamedes Swallowtail larvae that did as well - but I've never raised one. There are the Red Spotted Putples, and several inchworm/loopers that could be considered mimics as well. Haven't seen any of the latter families since childhood - mostly the ubiquitous Eastern Tent Caterpillars.

ImagineMel said...

well...apparently, according to the boys who live with each of us at various times, poop is fascinating at any age...

Anonymous said...

I was just about to say the same thing as Mom...weird...

-Jonathan

Floridacracker said...

Pablo,
I think you are pretty good at it.

Ced,
Dang, I was still trying to figure out what Valown meant!
:)

Dani,
How many kinds do you raise?

HT,
Fecal characteristics ... is the poo fits ...

Doc,
Eclosion ... my new word for the day.

Doug,
I didn't mean the bright green snake mimic head, but just a general snaky change ... less poopy, more serpenty.
http://creatures.ifas.ufl.edu/citrus/giants3.htm

Robin,
Maybe in CA with all the citrus, since you are heading that way.

Woodie,
Maybe this weekend.

Mel,
Yes, I've seen it bring forth the uncontrollable giggles in one of those lads.

Jonathon,
That would be you of course.

dani813 said...

Blogger doesn't like me today....Try this again.Right now I have Monarch's,Red Admirals,American ladies,Gulf frits-I get more of these off my maypop later on in the season.And black swallowtails.Sweet Honey found me some hornworms in the garden day before yesterday.I know people don't like these but I find them to be very cute.So that's it for this week.

Floridacracker said...

Swampangel,
How did I miss your comment? Sorry.
I agree they are pretty gross cool.

Dani,
Wow, that must keep you busy gathering host plant leaves. We raised a hickory horned devil once and he was ravenous all the time.

Julie Zickefoose said...

This post made me quack.

Floridacracker said...

Julie,
I hope that means it was "just ducky".

Brenda said...

I just found one of these caterpillars on our lime tree here in Guaymas, Sonora, Mexico. I have to say that they are not the prettiest caterpillar I have ever seen. Very interesting though. From what I read they have a lot of a "juvenile" hormone at this stage, when they get bigger they lose this hormone and turn green to match the tree leaves.