Polydamus Swallowtail Butterfly

Battus polydamus lucaus

Photographs taken by Susan Leach Snyder

On December 26, 2007, a Polydamus Swallowtail was observed flying around the Lagoon Trail gardens, primarily in Garden #13. The next day, it was discovered that she had laid a cluster of 10 very tiny yellow eggs on a stem of a pipevine plant.

The eggs were photographed over the next week. At left below... day 2; at right ...day 3.

On the fifth and sixth days, the young dark caterpillars could be seen developing inside the eggs.

Eight days after being laid, the eggs hatched. In the photograph below taken at 8 AM, eight eggs had hatched, the ninth caterpillar was just emerging, and the 10th caterpillar was still inside its egg.

A few hours later, the 9th caterpillar had fully emerged and it was photographed eating its first meal... the inside of its own egg. Later that day the nine caterpillars crawled together to a nearby leaf, where they continued eating. The 10th egg had not yet hatched.


Left: A close-up shows a group of four caterpillars eating a pipevine leaf. Notice their black spines and triangular bodies. They changed their appearance several times over the next weeks.


Eventually, the caterpillars no longer clustered in groups; they became more solitary. And because they eat pipevine, a distasteful substance to birds and lizards, many potential predators avoided eating them.

Nine days later, the caterpillar shown below had molted several times and it had developed rows of orange tubercles along its body. This caterpillar was photographed shedding its skin... the black, spiny substance at the bottom of the picture.

Although the photograph at right makes the caterpillar appear to be quite large, the penny in the photograph below, shows its actual size 11 days after hatching from its egg.











By the 13th day after hatching, all but one caterpillar had died. A few were killed by a spider, one drown, and the rest seemed to die from some sort of disease. Shown below at left was the last remaining caterpillar. Four days later, it became bloated, as shown on the right. It stopped eating and died within a few days.

As with all butterflies, female Polydamus butterflies have to lay a lot of eggs because very few of their offspring reach adulthood. In this case, none of the clutch of 10 eggs that were laid by the mother survived.

On November 16, 2008, a rather large Polydamus caterpillar was spotted crawling along the pipevine in Garden #9. Eventually this caterpillar stopped eating and its body changed form. It attached itself to the pipevine with threads of silk, and it changed into a chrysalis.


The chrysalis was a perfect replica of a curled green pipevine leaf.

On the morning of the 22nd day after the caterpillar had pupated, golden spots of the butterfly's wings were visible through the skin of the chrysalis. Over the next eight hours, the skin of the chrysalis became very transparent.

Then over a matter of seconds, the butterfly emerged from its chrysalis, leaving behind an empty skin. The beautiful tailless swallowtail with yellow spots near the margins of top wings and red and white markings on the underside of its wings, hung by it delicate legs from the dry pipevine. Its wings were folded and wet.

The butterfly began pumping blood into its wing veins and fluttering its wings. Slowly the wings unfurled and hardened.

After the wings veins were filled with blood, excess waste was expelled as a drop from the butterfly's abdomen; the butterfly was ready to fly and mate.


On March 29, 2009, a beautiful female Polydamus was spotted in Garden 9 near the pipevine, as show below:




Eventually, she began laying clusters of eggs on the tendrils of the plant.











Index to Butterfly and Moth Visitors to the Conservancy Ecotone Trail

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Please report errors to Susan Snyder at susanleachsnyder@gmail.com