It All Comes Full Circle

A few years ago, in the early stages of my wildlife garden, I planted my first Wafer Ash, or Common Hop Tree (Ptelea trifoliata). I was ecstatic about it, because I longed for Giant Swallowtail caterpillars to call it home (and dinner). These fun caterpillars are known for their characteristic bird-poop appearance, but the adult Giant Swallowtail stage is also spectacular — a gorgeous and very large yellow-and-black butterfly.

giantswallcat10-14-14This year we had to transplant that now large Wafer Ash to the opposite side of the yard, and I feared that it wouldn’t survive. But amazingly enough it did, and we have our latest batch of bird-poop caterpillars. These little guys are making me so happy, and I really do feel at the moment like the garden has come full circle — I’m right back to seeing one the favorite fauna species I planted trees for all those years ago.

giantswallcat10-18-14Wafer Ash is a small deciduous tree found in much of the eastern and southern areas of the United States and into Central America. Because it prefers part shade to shade for its light, it serves well as an understory tree. It earned its species name trifoliata for its characteristic three leaflets. Small white flowers in late spring give rise to wafer-like seeds come fall, hence one of its common names.


But Wafer Ash is not actually in the ash family at all — it’s actually part of the citrus family. In fact, lemon, orange, and other citrus trees can sometimes host these little caterpillars, too. I’ve definitely noticed that they much prefer the more tender leaves — I wonder whether the female butterfly actually selects them that way. In the wild, I can’t ever seem to find caterpillars on hop trees with bigger, darker leaves.

giantswallcatb10-18-14When these caterpillars take a rest, they are often found along the bark or branches of the tree, perhaps for camouflage or to simply avoid predators that might more easily locate them on the green leaves. As if that bird poop appearance isn’t enough to deter would-be munchers!

Dill Power

Here at Great Stems we grow dill, partly for cooking but mostly for wildlife.dill05-13 It being May in Texas now, this cool-season herb is overgrown in our garden and not as pretty as it once was. dillseeds05-06-13The blooms are giving way to seeds, but that’s not the problem. Aside from being long and lanky, much of it is now covered in aphids.

aphidondillB05-13These pest bugs seem to suddenly show up by the hundreds, thanks to females that can produce live young without the presence of a male (when fall weather approaches, the females will produce males to allow the formation of eggs for overwintering). The aphids aren’t noticeably affecting the dill, but the tiny pests and plant legginess made me long to at the very least give the plant a good trim. But as soon as I took a closer look at the plant, I ceased the consideration of that idea — the dill is supporting a beautiful population of wildlife I do want.

blackswallowcat04-21-13The biggest are the Black Swallowtail caterpillars. Gorgeous, they are.


Anyone else adore the little gripping legs of caterpillars? Those stubby-looking ones in the abdominal area are called prolegs, but they aren’t true legs. The true legs are up near the head, in the thoracic area, and those are the legs that will be retained for adulthood. See them? Back at the other end, on the terminal abdominal segment, some caterpillars (including Black Swallowtails) and other insect larvae have an additional pair of prolegs, called anal prolegs.

ladybug05-13Lady beetles, popularly called ladybugs, dominated the rest of the dill. They are fierce consumers of aphids, and they have found quite the feast on my overgrown herbs.

ladybugsmatingC05-06-13Many male and female lady beetles have paired up, and “in the mood,” they’ve been busy.

ladybugsmating05-06-13Actually, the females didn’t really stop to mess around, so to speak. The one above, for example, kept eating aphid after aphid, regardless of the male attached to her.

ladybugeggs05-06-13The result of happy lady beetle love? Happy lady beetle eggs, and lots of them.

Edit: I’m fairly confident that most of these lady beetles are the darn invasive variety, Harmonia axyridis, the very ones responsible for the decline of many of our native species. Frustrating. But let me continue, as the basic concepts I talk about here are still the same.

ladybugeggslacewing05-13Here you can see both lady beetle eggs (the orange ovals) and lacewing eggs (the individually placed white eggs dangling from threads). I hope the lady beetle larvae emerge first and then skedaddle away before the voracious lacewing larvae arrive. But I’m not too worried, as there are plenty of aphids for them all.

ladybuglarvaD05-06-13Ladybug larvae are rather alien-like in appearance, but they are gentle little things — well, not to aphids.


Hey, look at those great legs (or should I say, great stems? hohoho)! I guess my interest in insect legs doesn’t stop with caterpillars.ladybuglarva05-06-13

As it turns out, I have a lot of ladybug larvae on my dill. A LOT. And that’s a good thing.


Even so, it wasn’t easy to get a picture of both adult and larval stage together. In fact, right after I took this picture, the larva fled the scene, while the adult seemed to give chase. I have no idea whether there was a threat of predation, but I do know that adult lady beetles consume other insects and larvae, in addition to aphids.ladybugsC05-06-13


When the lady beetle larva is ready, it will enter its pupa stage. Over the next several days, a complete metamorphosis will take place, and eventually an adult lady beetle will emerge. Above you can see one larva already in pupa stage, the other just starting.ladybugpupaB05-06-13


The base of the dill was a popular spot for pupae. Once the adults emerge, it will take a few hours for their exoskeleton to harden and darken. Then it’s time for an aphid feast and getting a new ladybug cycle underway.


Oh but there’s more! This mealybug destroyer wanted its fair share of aphids, too. Mealybug destroyers (Cryptolaemus montrouzieri) are also members of the lady beetle family. They aren’t native to the states (they were introduced  from Australia in 1891 to do exactly what they do — eat mealybugs, aphids, and scale insects), but they seem to be helpful without affecting native populations of lady beetles. They actually look like larger versions of the mealybug pests they are known for eating — this is called aggressive mimicry.

There are other insects taking advantage of the aphid feast offered by the dill, but I’ll stop here. The dill, getting uglier by the day (its prime time is during cooler temperatures), gets to stay, too beneficial a haven to remove.

The Remarkably Camouflaged Sleepy Orange Caterpillar

The fuzzy leaves of the Southwestern-native Lindheimer’s Senna (Senna lindheimeriana) have well earned it the nickname “Puppy Dog Ears.”

Lindheimer's SennaIts softness isn’t just alluring to the touch — the velvety hairs and light blue-green color catch the light so subtly that the leaves almost beckon you to reach out with your fingertips. In fact, it can be so distracting that you almost have to refocus your eyes, as if viewing a stereogram, to look beyond the leaves to see what might actually be munching on them.

Take, for example, the Sleepy Orange caterpillar, who uses Lindheimer’s Senna as a host plant.

Like the senna’s leaves, the caterpillar appears light green and fuzzy. 

This just might help protect it from would-be predators.

Often I found the caterpillars aligned with the leaf petioles.

Other times, I found them along leaf edges, almost blending in with the light margins of the leaves.

It might not be the most unusual camouflage out there, but I found it pretty remarkable. Since these photos are close-ups, the caterpillars stand out more than they did on the actual plants — I really had to look for them! I can’t speak as to how effectively Sleepy Orange caterpillars blend with the leaves of other Cassia species, but I’m certainly impressed with their ability to hide on the fuzzy sennas in my backyard.

Here is a Sleepy Orange adult, laying eggs on one of my sennas just a few weeks ago. Some of the caterpillars I’m showing might very well be her offspring.

Another female has recently laid her eggs. While some butterflies lay round eggs, the Sleepy Orange eggs are oval-shaped.

Later this year, the senna will produce gorgeous yellow blooms and soon after that many seeds contained in pods. It’s a lovely plant, supporting countless insects and birds and other critters. Yep, you guessed it, it’s a favorite of mine.

Garden Firsts

It’s a funny thing how nature works. Last year we had one of the worst droughts in recorded Texas history, and this year we have some of the best wildlife viewing. In fact, 2011 was so empty of caterpillars, butterflies, and other insects that I had great concern for many of our birds, spiders, reptiles, and other wildlife that are dependent on such invertebrates. But this year, after having a reasonable amount of fall and winter rain, we’ve seen an amazing number of caterpillars of all species and with them a tremendous explosion of butterflies and moths. What that means is that we’ll also have lots of baby birds this season, all things considered, and hopefully lots of other creatures. Needless to say, I’m having fun in the wildlife garden – so much to watch!

yellowwaterlilyb05-06-12.jpgYellow Water Lily

This spring has marked a number of firsts for our relatively young garden (I’m going to call it young until it has reached its fifth birthday). Our native Yellow Water Lily is blooming at last. I have waited such a long time for it to do so, though to be fair, it’s certainly possible that it has bloomed without me knowing it. My White Water Lily still hasn’t bloomed yet, as far as I know, but I shall remain hopeful!

opuntiabloomb05-07-12.jpgSpineless Prickly Pear

We were getting worried that our Spineless Prickly Pear would never bloom, but lo and behold, it’s in bloom right now. Sure enough, bees and flies and other insects are getting drunk on that delicious Opuntia nectar!



Horsemint, Coreopsis, Black-eyed Susan, and Pincushion  Daisy are all in bloom in the garden for the first time. Were those in seed mixes I’d spread around? Or did the birds deliver them? I’d think the first, except that Horsemint and Coreopsis also happen to be growing at the entrance to our subdivision. Hmmmm. The other two are probably just all me.


Sleepy Orange caterpillar — I love how it blends with the fuzzy Lindheimer’s Senna leaves

Caterpillars I’ve longed for but hadn’t yet seen munching on the plants we’d planted for them are at last here. With luck, they’ll return as adults to lay more eggs. Pipevine caterpillars, previously present only from eggs brought home on nursery plants, have officially appeared as the result of a visiting female Pipevine Swallowtail. Sleepy Orange caterpillars have been munching on our Lindheimer’s Senna, but with all the other Sulphur butterflies fluttering about, I expect there will be more.


Snowberry Clearwing caterpillar on White Honeysuckle

Butterfly caterpillars aren’t the only ones in great numbers. Snowberry Clearwing caterpillars, complete with the “horns” consistent with their family, have been happily grazing on the White Honeysuckle Shrub. Lots of unnamed but equally welcome moth caterpillars have been seen in trees, on shrubs, on grasses, on veggies, and perennials. That means it should be a good food year for bats and owls and swallows and the like!

The Monarchs and Queens have returned, as have the Black Swallowtails, I report with relief. I’ll feel much better once I see Giant Swallowtails and Tigers again, along with other Swallowtail species of which I am quite fond. And I think we’ve all been impressed by the showing of Red Admirals this year! Painted Ladies, Buckeyes, Question Marks, Checkerspots, Gulf Fritillaries – oh the list goes on.


Downy Woodpecker collecting insects

Our Mama Eastern Screech Owl returned to our backyard, and last night I saw an owlet shyly peering down at me from its nesting box. Baby birds are starting to fledge right and left, and we’re watching parent birds teaching  their young how to find food. The toads are singing their nightly mating calls. And today for the first time, I watched a Downy Woodpecker feed insects from an old limb to another Downy Woodpecker on a nearby branch. Cute as can be! It’s a good spring. Thank goodness!

The Skeleton Vine

My poor Passionvine looks like a skeleton. Originally I thought it had something to do with the drought, and that probably was the actual start of it, but now it seems to have more to do with this guy… and all its brothers, sisters, and cousins. Dozens at a time, all different sizes and instars — munching and munching and munching.


It’s all good — after all, I planted the Passionvine FOR the caterpillars. However…

 gulffritcatd11-17-11.jpgMy poor plant, formerly known as “quite large,” has very few leaves left on it! Now I have to worry about the little caterpillars running out of food. My babies!

But I’m having fun. The stone of my house is covered in chrysalises. So are the trellis around the A/C unit and the Mexican Redbud growing nearby.


This caterpillar ventured several feet along the stone of the house, looking for prime chrysalis real estate.


Soon it will make a “j” shape, and soon after that it will begin to transform.


What I find utterly fascinating is that some Gulf Fritillary chrysalises are positioned at very odd angles.


These two are showing off an apparently poorly mortared portion of my house. What creatures lie within that dark crevice, I wonder?


I guess if the previous tenant liked this spot, it was good enough for the next caterpillar. Either that or it’s becoming a suburb.

I didn’t get any pictures of actual butterflies today, but just to complete the picture, here’s one of my favorites from last year:


I guess I’ll be knocking on the door of gardeners with ample Passionvine soon. Caterpillar rescue time approaches.

Moving In, Moving Out

First of all, cheers and congratulations to Austin’s newest Habitat Steward Volunteers — the 2011 training just finished up last week! Second, everyone please be sure to go out and support your favorite local nurseries this month as an extra helpful boost for them this October. Oh and one more thing — next week is Texas Native Plant Week. You know what I’ll be doing, starting with the plant sale at the Wildflower Center this weekend. I should probably let my family know that, uh, instead of Family Game Night we’ll likely be having Family Gardening Weekend.

Thank goodness fall has arrived, and with it we’re seeing butterflies and caterpillars again. I’ll let you in on a little secret — if you watch Central Texas Gardener this week, you might just learn about some of my personal favorites.

twotaileda10-11-11.jpgI was thrilled last week to finally get to release three Two-tailed Swallowtails from the Caterpillar Hotel. The caterpillars formed their chrysalises last spring and then underwent diapause, or a period of dormancy, over the summer. Finally, when the weather cooled a bit, the beautiful butterflies emerged.

Here’s a picture of one of the caterpillars last May — it was munching on Wafer Ash, which is also the host plant for the Giant Swallowtail butterfly.


But wait — who’s munching from behind this next leaf?

monarchcata10-11-11.jpgMonarchs are here! I’ve been busily keeping several caterpillars of all sizes feasting upon milkweed, safely housed inside the Caterpillar Hotel (also known as a large mesh laundry basket).


We have 2 chrysalises newly formed today, and I expect three more will be there tomorrow — the caterpillars have already selected their metamorphosis locations.


Next up is another sweet creature on milkweed, a ladybug nymph.


It’s a fierce predator of those naughty aphids you can see farther back on the plant, and as an adult ladybug, it will still feast away on the aphid pests. Whenever I see an adult or nymph ladybug, I leave aphids on the plant for it to eat.

I’m trying to ID this next bug — if anyone knows it, please help me out.


I’ve got three of them patrolling the top of my Caterpillar Hotel, trying to find a way in. They look like some sort of weevil. Could they want the milkweed? I don’t know of weevils that eat caterpillars, but I only saw them on the mesh tent where the caterpillars are, not on the rest of the milkweed out in the garden. There’s nothing else inside the mesh that could possibly interest them. Hmmmm…


Most of the hummingbirds have moved on, but I saw one out there yesterday.


At our peak about 3 weeks ago, we had 15 hummingbirds visiting flowers and feeders all at the same time — I’m only just now able to show some of the pictures.

hummersb09-18-11.jpgThe feeder below was the favorite of most of the birds. At one point we counted 7 sharing the feeder at the same time, but first they had to calm their territorial instincts.



Of course, the other feeders got plenty of visitors, too.


I do miss all the hummingbirds, but they’ll be back. For those birds still trying to make their way south, the flowers and feeders are still here for them (in fact I always keep at least one feeder up all winter just in case there’s a hummer that didn’t find its way south before the cold gets here).

The brief bit of rain last week has done the garden good. What a pleasure it is to be back outside again!

The Littlest Giant

If you’ve been following the story of my caterpillars, you know that I’ve been awaiting the emergence of multiple butterfly species from their cozy little chrysalises.

giantswallowb05-30-11.jpgAnd yesterday, to my delight, I found a freshly-emerged Giant Swallowtail, wings still damp and slightly droopy. I let it dry for awhile inside the hotel until it looked a little more ready to venture into the world. Then I let it crawl onto my finger, and together we headed into the garden to find it a perfect flower for a little nectar. A Purple Coneflower seemed just the spot.


What a cute and dainty thing — this is by far the smallest Giant Swallowtail I’ve ever seen! I’m going to estimate it at about 4 inches wing-to-wing (the largest ones are over 6 inches wing-to-wing).

giantswallowi05-30-11.jpgDon’t be fooled by the pictures — it might look big in the images, but it’s resting on small blooms.



Being small doesn’t make it any less than absolutely perfect.


After a few minutes, I watched the butterfly take its first flight. And just like that, it was gone!

Our latest Gulf Fritillary emerged the day before the littlest Giant.


Do you see the red stain on the mesh? That’s liquid metabolic waste, or meconium, leftover from the pupal stage — the new butterfly expels it after leaving the chrysalis. I’ll have to clean the mesh with care — I don’t want to accidentally wash off one of the other chrysalises inside the caterpillar hotel.


Moments shared with a butterfly are priceless.


We still have lots of chrysalises and hungry caterpillars in the hotel. It’s a good thing I have no immediate vacation plans. The Two-Tailed Swallowtails haven’t yet emerged — I fully expect them not to do so for a few months, at least. How surprisingly different butterfly species can be!

Raising Two Swallowtail Species from Egg to Chrysalis

Raising caterpillars has become a favorite side hobby of mine. I grow native host plants for many different species of butterflies to lay their eggs on, and most of the time, the caterpillars are on their own in the garden. But some butterflies only lay a few eggs at most, and I like to give the caterpillars a safe area where they can eat and grow, and grow and eat, without fear of becoming another animal’s lunch.

twotailedcat04-26-11.jpgHere in Central Texas, some of the best known butterflies are those in the Swallowtail family — they are large, beautiful, and quite mesmerizing as they flutter around the garden or into the woodlands. Two of my favorite species use the same host plant, the Wafer Ash, or Hop Tree (Ptelea trifoliata). They are the Giant Swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes), seen at the end of this post, and the Two-Tailed Swallowtail (Papilio multicaudata), the latter bearing a remarkable resemblance to the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail.

In the above picture and next several photos, you can see the different stages of the Two-Tailed Swallowtail caterpillars. Caterpillar growth stages are called instars. The Two-Tailed’s fifth instar stage is its final one.


When the caterpillar is young, it looks a little like bird droppings, as do many other caterpillars in the Swallowtail family.



But in the transition to fifth instar, the caterpillar changes dramatically to a beautiful lime green color, with eye spots and a black band.

twotailedcatb04-26-11.jpgThis early fifth-instar caterpillar is showing its osmeterium, a defensive response of a Swallowtail caterpillars when they feel threatened. I discourage anyone from deliberately stressing a Swallowtail caterpillar to make it show its osmeterium. This caterpillar only showed its osmeterium because I was nudging it to move to fresh foliage. You can tell the caterpillar is an early fifth instar because evidence of its once-white saddle is still visible on its back — in time the saddle area will be as green as the rest of the caterpillar.


Another early fifth instar shows its somewhat mottled coloration as it transitions to full green.

A late fifth instar turns brown, and then the quest is on for an ideal, secluded chrysalis spot.

twotailedcatfeet05-03-11.jpgIts nifty feet will transport the caterpillar quickly. I never tire of watching the movements of a caterpillar.


The Two-Tailed Swallowtail can take many months before it emerges from its chrysalis. So don’t hold your breath for a photo any time soon! But I look forward to that follow-up post.

Moving on to the Giant Swallowtail, I get to start first with the eggs this time. A Giant Swallowtail egg is a tiny orange sphere that darkens with time. There are two in the image below. Guess which one hatched first.

raisingcaterpillarseggs05-07-11.jpgNote the foliage setup at this point — I collected the leaves with eggs and placed the petioles in a little floral water tube, making sure there were plenty of extra leaves to fill the space in the hole. The advantage to this is that the eggs and tiny caterpillars get their own area in the Caterpillar Hotel — the larger Swallowtail caterpillars would eat the eggs (and baby caterpillars) if they ran across them on their leaves, so it’s best to keep the “nursery” leaves out of their reach.

tinygiantswall05-09-11.jpgWhen the baby caterpillar emerges from the egg, it consumes the remaining shell before getting its first taste of the host plant. Can you see the tiny caterpillar as well as the second egg?

giantswallcatsb05-22-11.jpgAlmost two weeks later, the first caterpillar is about 1/2-inch long, and the second egg’s caterpillar is now the tiny one — both officially are looking like bird poop. They are just a few days apart in age. FYI, even though I grouped them for the photo, it’s best to keep young caterpillars separated if you can. They sometimes don’t play nicely if they happen upon one another.


A slightly larger Giant Swallowtail really exhibits that bird poop look.

The final instar means its time to go to chrysalis.

Up to the top of the hotel the caterpillar climbs. The hotel is getting as crowded as if it were SXSW in Austin.

2chrysalisl05-22-11.jpgHere are the two species’ chrysalises side by side. Remarkably different, eh?

And as another comparison, here are the Giant and Two-Tailed caterpillars side by side.


Note the difference in coloration, particularly at the end of the caterpillars. The Giant has two large areas of white, while the Two-Tailed primarily has just the saddle on its back.

We have one more species in the hotel right now — not a swallowtail, but a Gulf Fritillary.

gulffritchrys05-22-11.jpgNormally we have many, many Gulf Fritillary caterpillars on the Passionvine, but I happened to be out by the vine when I saw a hunting wasp getting really close to this one. I had to save the little guy, and within a day it went to chrysalis in the hotel.

The Caterpillar Hotel is simply a collapsible mesh laundry hamper. There are some very nice butterfly tents on the market, including ones with side openings, but the laundry basket was only $10 and thus much more reasonable for the budget-minded.


If you look inside, you can see the different methods I’ve experimented with for keeping the foliage fresh. Aside from using the floral water tube for small caterpillars and eggs on single leaves or leaflets, I like sticking leaf stalks and branches directly into damp soil. The leaves stay fresh, it’s easy to add water or replace foliage, and the caterpillars can crawl safely over the surface.

I can’t recommend the jar of water with a plastic wrap cover (held by a rubber band with foliage stalks or branches poking through a hole in the center). If the hole rips too wide, a caterpillar could fall into the water. I almost had two caterpillars drown when they got zealous in their foliage feasting and fell into the water — luckily I saw them in time (barely) and they survived (and are in chrysalis stage as I write this). Needless to say, I don’t use the jar method anymore. I also don’t like to place leaves in a bowl with little caterpillars — the leaves dry out too fast. Floral water tubes and damp soil in a planter are it for me now!

I’ll continue to play nanny to the young caterpillars, protect the chrysalises, and patiently wait for new butterflies to emerge in the Caterpillar Hotel.


Someday, if all goes well, I’ll have giant Giants (like the one above) and Two-Tails with two tails to introduce to the world!

Striking Artichoke Flowers and Rain Visit the Garden

I was out working in the garden this afternoon when I was happily driven back inside by RAIN! 

mxredbud05-17-11.jpgI stopped to do my happy rain dance, then I figured I might as well take a moment to finish the blog post I started yesterday. So…

I grew artichokes… again. I didn’t manage to eat them… again. I missed that window between “not ready to be harvested” and “you blew it, the ideal picking time is over.” I can’t remember what was going on– maybe Earth Week (busy at my son’s school) — but whatever it was, the artichokes declined to postpone their harvest date for me. However, sometimes such vegetable garden tragedies can lead to something good.

In this case, I discovered that artichokes left to flower produce a gigantic lavender bloom worthy of their prehistoric-looking foliage.

GSartichokeflowerb05-17-11.jpgIt’s giant, it’s purple, it’s spectacular, and it’s in my garden! The bees love it. They dig deep past the petals to reach the pollen, and their cute little bee butts stick out. I wish I’d caught a picture.

GSmonarchonmistflower05-17-11.jpgA lone male monarch stopped by — I was glad to be able to offer it nectar beverages, as its wings were not in the best of shape. It looked like the wings had been that way since emerging from the chrysalis. Poor thing, that must make flying long distances a challenge.


Above, the monarch rests on Purple Coneflower, which are the tallest they ever been, not that you can tell from the picture. But I know this to be true — third year’s a charm!

The hummingbirds are busy, busy. They are in full feisty mode, with the males going at each other to lay claim on the feeders, while the females sneak in for a drink.


We hung a new feeder on the patio — it’s so pleasant to sit and relax and have the hummers come hang out with us.


We’ve had numerous fledglings visiting the feeders. This young male cardinal is rather mottled-looking as it transitions to its bright red colors.

cardinal05-17-11.jpgSee its dark beak? Baby cardinals’ beaks start out dark, then become orange as they get a little older.

Our baby owl has fledged, by the way. We knew that Screech Owls fledge soon after they appear at a cavity’s entrance, but that didn’t stop us from hoping our little cutie would hang around for awhile. Here’s the last picture I took of it on the day it fledged.

GSscreechowlbaby05-17-11.jpgFly well, little Screech Owl!

Meet the Crimson Patch

 We’ve been raising caterpillars again. With the severe lack of rain, I’m feeling concerned about Texas butterflies this year — we’ve had a definite drop in butterfly numbers, and it doesn’t help that wasps have been plentiful and on a very big caterpillar hunt lately. So the Caterpillar Hotel is back in business!


A Crimson Patch Caterpillar rests on a Flame Acanthus leaf.

At last month’s Austin Butterfly Forum meeting, the subject of the evening was the very same — raising caterpillars. Some members kindly brought caterpillars in for show and tell, and they offered to share the caterpillars with those who had the proper host plants at home. That’s how we came to have Crimson Patch caterpillars to raise — we have plenty of Flame Acanthus, their host plant. I don’t know whether these beautiful butterflies have visited our garden before — we often see the similar Bordered Patch butterflies (seen in the Caterpillar Hotel link above), but the Crimson Patch (Chlosyne janais) is recently extending its range into Central Texas. It is more commonly found in South Texas. Regardless, I hope these young ones will stay.


Crimson Patch caterpillars are relatively small; they are whitish-gray in color with black spines. As small as they are, they can quickly be lost as they wander off to form their chrysalis or to molt as they develop. Our first two caterpillars formed yellow chrysalises — the one above has a “clear” area on the chrysalis, but the butterfly emerged just fine. We have another chrysalis that is more white-gray in color — such variations are normal.


It only took about 8 days for our first Crimsons to emerge from their chrysalises. The shells left behind were just as beautiful as the newly formed ones.

And here is the adult Crimson Patch, still drying its wings after we moved it to a Texas Lantana for nearby nectar.


The dorsal hindwings sport the spots for which the Crimson Patch gets its name, though the patches are more red-orange than actual crimson in color (in contrast to the “spots,” the Bordered Patch’s red-orange color extends as a band across the upperside).


We’re looking forward to releasing the next set of Crimson Patch butterflies soon. Do stay tuned for some other very special caterpillars in our Caterpillar Hotel!