On the third day of attempting to get one of our Papilio glaucus females to lay eggs, she finally laid one!
Beginning on 4/13, after we set up a homemade little oviposition light box as described in this post, we have been hoping each day to get some of our hand-paired swallowtails to lay some eggs.
After a quick feed of honey-water this morning at 9 AM, we decided to put the older of our two eastern tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) females paired on 4/3 into the box with just a small sprig of plum (Prunus cerasifera) and switched on both lamps (our female pipevine swallowtail [Battus philenor hirsuta] escaped in the basement yesterday and still has yet to be recovered and the other glaucus has only just eclosed two days ago). Based on the activity of the previous two days with this female, there didn't seem to be much hope since she was already very worn and weak with brutally torn/crippled wings and a missing leg. We knew that if she really was going to lay eggs, it would take time and were not optimistic that she would be in the proper condition--or even alive for that matter--by the time she was ready. But when we checked on her about two hours later, we were quite taken aback that she had indeed finally laid a single egg right on the top of a fresh little leaf!
Being the first time that we have ever gotten any swallowtail outside of the machaon-group to actually oviposit in captivity, this has truly got to be one of the most exciting events in all our of years of rearing. What makes this even more exciting, or at least interesting, is that the female that laid the egg had been hand-paired with a wild caught western tiger (Papilio rutulus). We will admit that we aren't positive that the egg is actually fertile, but based on the behavior and abdomen girth of the female it at least seems that the pairing was successful.
Given the unexpected success of this oviposition setup, we'll take this opportunity to analyze just what was different about this and the multitude of other occasions we have attempted to get Papilio glaucus to oviposit in captivity. In the past, we have always taken the roomy approach in terms of the setup size, thinking that it was necessary that the female have enough room to fly in order to stimulate natural conditions and get her to lay. This time we used the smallest possible enclosure that could fit a sprig of host plant such that contact of the plant was essentially unavoidable unlike in the larger setup. Also different was that we used the heat lamps this time instead of natural sunlight. As you probably know, the weather here doesn't get very hot here so the lamps added a significant amount of heat that would be unachievable otherwise. However, we did realize this time that it probably was not necessarily the heat that got our female to start laying. Simply put, heat is not a direct stimulus for egg-laying; it seems only to hasten the process just as it hastens all other processes of these cold-blooded insects. Based on experience, very high heat is certainly not an absolute requirement for the swallowtails to lay so if our female was not planning on laying from the start she would not lay no matter how hot it is (the opposite is true in that if she is going to lay, she will do so even without higher than normal temperatures).
It is also important to note that our female is an old one, having eclosed on 4/4 (paired on 4/13). Tiger swallowtails are notorious for taking very long time to develop their eggs. Obviously, the adult females begin with a handful upon emerging, but the higher the egg load, the more willing it seems that they are to lay. There is also some unconclusive research saying that females with higher egg loads are less picky when choosing host plants, which if true is something that we probably need to count on given the hosts that we used and have available to us. Our particular female very evidently had built up a generous supply of eggs based on how old she was and just by taking a look at the fullness of her abdomen. It is certainly much fuller than our younger female that eclosed on 4/3. Insufficient egg load is one of the primary reason why it might take a long time before females begin laying in captivity.
Anyway, we are hoping that now that our female has gotten started, she will lay a some more in the coming days. Even a few eggs would be more than enough to please us if they all hatch and assuming they don't die for mysterious genetic reasons.
We attempt to get our hand-paired pipevine swallowtail (Battus philenor hirsuta) and eastern tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) feamles to oviposit.
Recently, we've had quite a few of our pipevine and eastern tiger swallowtails eclose. We managed to hand-pair one of our pipevine females with a male quite easily a few days ago. However, we only had female glaucus, so we resorted to hand-pairing one of the female glaucus with a wild caught male rutulus. This hybrid pairing is unlikely to work (though according to studies the reciprocal pairing with a male glaucus and female rutulus sometimes does), but it's the best we an do for now.
Anyway, we decided to set up an indoor oviposition box with a heat lamps since it is not sunny or hot enough outside at this time of year for them to oviposit in an outside cage. The box we set up is quite small, about the size of a shoe box, with a screen lid. The heat lamps are right on top and are the kind sold at pet shops for reptiles. The heat generated by the lamps is not considered very strong, though warm enough for our purposes (maybe heat the box up to about 21-27°C). Inside the box, we placed dishes of water covered by screen for the butterflies to drink and to prevent the box from becoming overly dry. On top, we placed either plum (Prunus cerasifera) branches or pipevine (Aristolochia californica) cuttings depending on which butterfly was inside.
We switched on the lamps for the whole day and put the butterflies one at a time to try to induce them to oviposit on the plants, but so far neither has. The pipevine swallowtail seemed to react when coming in contact with the host, drumming its feet all over the plant and occasionally curling its abdomen as if ready to oviposit, but never did. The glaucus, however, did not seem to respond at all when on the plum. Glaucus prefer tulip tree (Liriodendron) as their host over Prunus, and they would never encounter the species of Prunus we have anyway, so it's not surprising that our glaucus did not respond to it. We'll keep trying over the next few days anyway just in case there is a chance the butterflies will begin to lay eggs.
A crippled female Papilio glaucus eclosed today.
Well, it seems we can never get these to emerge without crippled wings. Virtually all of our Papilio glaucus pupae that we have had eclose in the past have turned out crippled. It doesn't matter the stock origin, humidity, or temperature. There's always something messed up about them. It doesn't really make any sense how their wings never expand properly as the conditions should've been good enough (probably 80% humidity in the container). We've never had this happen before to any other local butterflies like Papilio zelicaon, Papilio rutulus, or Battus philenor hirsuta regardless of the temperature or humidity. They almost always eclose in perfect condition unless the pupa itself was deformed or the butterfly was hanging in the wrong position. Even our multicaudatas from Arizona eclosed 100% perfectly. The only other swallowtail we've also kept having crippled wing problems with was Papilio cresphontes, another eastern swallowtail like glaucus. We are really not sure why this happens or what we can do to stop the problem, so all we can do is have our fingers crossed that the next one that ecloses won't be another unfortunate eyesore.
Rearing notes for our diapausing Papilio glaucus (eastern tiger swallowtail ) pupa.
Rearing Notes 3/13/17-3/??/17:
Rearing notes for our Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) chrysalises that were obtained from an Ohio breeder.
Rearing Notes 9/3/16-9/??/16:
Our Eastern Giant Swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes) chrysalises arrived today from an Ohio breeder.
The Eastern Giant Swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes) is our first swallowtail in the Rutaceae feeding subgenus of Papilio, Heraclides. While this is probably the most well known and widespread of these swallowtails, this group of swallowtails as a whole are probably the least well-known and are not as widely distributed in North America as the tiger (Pterourus) and black (Papilio) group swallowtails since there are fewer species in the subgenus. The closely related sister species, the Western Giant Swallowtail (Papilio rumiko), is here in California, but its introduction in the south is extremely recent; they have yet to increase their range to Albany.
Today we had 12 Eastern Giant Swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes) chrysalises arrive from a breeder in Ohio, the same one who sent us Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) chrysalises. He also sent us another four glaucuses this time as well, one of which was pharate, but we are really just excited about the cresphontes since, as mentioned before, this is the first time we have had this species.
The first thing we did (as always) was find the mass of the chrysalises, since it is interesting to us to see the relation between pupal mass and adult wingspan. We got the following numbers in grams for these twelve cresphontes: 0.8, 0.9, 0.9, 1.0, 1.1, 1.1, 1.1, 1.1, 1.1, 1.2, 1.2, 1.3. The average is 1.067 grams, which is only slightly higher than the 1.028 gram average for 25 of our wild-sourced Anise Swallowtail (Papilio zelicaon) chrysalises and only a bit higher than the 0.95 average of 44 of our captive raised and wild-sourced Hairy Pipevine Swallowtails (Battus philenor hirsuta). We never found the exact average of the Eastern Tiger chrysalises but the minimum was 0.7 grams and the maximum was 1.2 grams and based on memory, the majority were around the 1.0 or below.
Based on these results, it is a bit odd that all four of these species have such close pupal weights even though the average adult wingspan differs so greatly between them. Cresphontes' wingspan is much larger than the zelicaon or B. p. hirsuta, averaging a whopping 14 cm (5.5 in) for males and 14.7 cm (5.8 in) for females according to one source (after all, why call it the "giant" swallowtail if it wasn't big?). In our experience, zelicaon reaches 4.5 inches from enormous 1.5 gram chrysalises at the very maximum when reared under laboratory conditions (how unfair!) and is often marked lower by field guides; our B. p. hirsuta is even smaller, with our largest individuals less than 4 inches though field guides sometimes report 5 inches. Glaucus reportedly averages slightly smaller than cresphontes, which corresponds better to pupal mass (our largest glaucus was 5 inches). Clearly, both cresphontes and glaucus have much larger wings in proportion to their pupal mass as compared to the other two species. Following this kind of crazy pupal mass to wingspan ratio, the Two-tailed swallowtail (Papilio multicaudatus) would be monstrous, considering that our largest chrysalis of this species is 2.9 grams (none of them have eclosed properly yet, so we have yet to see)!
Shape-wise, the cresphontes chrysalises are typical swallowtail shape, somewhat like members of the other two groups except there is a large bulge in the middle (must be from the elongated wing shape) and the spikes on the thorax and head are softer. They somewhat resemble B. philenor of an entirely separate swallowtail tribe, chrysalises more because of the bulge. The coloration very closely matches tree bark, being a greyish bark colored brown with varying amounts of green along the sides.
Now that we have these Eastern Giant Swallowtail chrysalises, we aren't quite sure what to do. Since it is so late in the season, it is reasonable to assume they are going to diapause until next spring which the breeder also suspects (diapause patterns, however, can be hard to predict with this species since they are of tropical origin [Central America] where it is warm year round). This is fortunate since if they eclosed now, they would probably not survive a whole brood in the fall weather, though obtaining citrus wouldn't be a problem. For now, we haven't done anything with the 12 chrysalises yet and have left them in the container they were sent in, but we will eventually set up a safe container for them to overwinter.
- Alan, Brian
Now that we have two more gravid female Eastern Tiger Swallowtails (Papilio glaucus), we will attempt once again to have them lay eggs, this time in our new (and hopefully improved) ovipositing set up.
We first obtained a fertilized female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) on 8/15 but didn't quite manage to squeeze any eggs out of it in our ovipositing enclosure in the day or two before it got away. Unlike our Anise Swallowtails (Papilio zelicaon) and presumably other machaon group swallowtails, glaucus group swallowtails are known not to start laying until at least a few days after mating so that might have been the problem.
Other than that, the issue lies mainly in the set up. There are two basic approaches one can take in setting up an ovipositing enclosure for these types of butterflies: (1) mimicking the natural environment of the species by creating a large enough space to allow it fly around while also providing natural nectar sources or (2) confining it to the smallest space possible such that it can still move about and lay eggs but maximizes the chance of contact between the host plant which stimulates oviposition. Our first attempt used the second method; we confined out gravid female into a very small 12 x 12 x 24 laundry bag with a small branch of host plant American plum (Prunus americana) stuck in a cup of water. Strangely, the female couldn't fly very well anyway.
Today, with two gravid females -- one a reasonably sized black form female and the other a small yellow form female -- we decided that we needed to set up a new, hopefully improved, enclosure. It had already been two days since the black one was mated and one day since the yellow one was so it probably couldn't hurt to start today. We fed them well with sugar water, every day that they were alive and at least the black one is getting quite bulky.
Since both of these females seemed to have no trouble flying, we took the first approach for our new set up. We borrowed the 24 x 24 x 36 inch mesh screening cage that we keep katydids in and cut two huge branches of plum. We stuck the branches in a jar of water and put the jar on top of an upside-down pot to elevate such that the branches would hit the top of the enclosure which is where the butterflies like to hang out. It is certainly roomy enough for them to fly freely with literally being forced onto the plant.
By the time we got the butterflies in the enclosure, it was already 3 PM and wasn't very sunny (63 degrees and partly cloudy today) so they just roosted for the rest of the day. But hopefully, within a few days, we shall see if this method proves effective. The only other issue that we might be able to fix with this set up is the host plant. While any suitable ovipositing host of this polyphagous species should be fine, the females still has strong preferences for certain hosts, often regional. Some members of the magnolia family (Magnoliaceae) seem to be strong contenders and are used almost exclusively in the southern range; however, we obtained these from an Ohio breeder where Prunus is more frequently used. No matter what regional host, it is difficult with polyphagous feeders because they usually don't rely nearly as heavily on host plant allelochemicals as monophagous species; therefore, the females probably won't have nearly as strong of a reaction to the host plant simply by making contact with it and detecting the chemical makeup in the leaves. If this all doesn't work, we have few chances left, at least this year, since we only have three remaining chrysalises that look like they could all be females (not good since our males will surely be dead by then [three of five already are]).
The second installment of rearing notes for our 13 Eastern Tiger Swallowtails (Papilio glaucus) that were obtained as chrysalises from an Ohio breeder from 8/16-8/21.
Rearing Notes 8/16/16-8/21/16:
Female Western Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) Expanding Wings*
* Shown in 8x speed
- Alan, Brian
After obtaining a gravid female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) yesterday, we set up an oviposition enclosure in hopes of obtaining eggs from it.
Now that we have a gravid Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, our next step was to create an oviposition enclosure for it to lay eggs. Since the laundry bag over a potted plant set up has worked very well for us for both Anise Swallowtails (Papilio zelicaon) and Monarchs (Danaus plexippus), we decided to use this method. Since we don't actually have a potted host plant of the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, we instead placed the laundry bag over a potted milkweed plant as a nectar source and put a cup of water with plum and cherry (Prunus) branches inside as the host plant. We then fed the female with plenty of sugar/water solution and placed her inside at around 3:00 in the afternoon. By the time the sun went down, we found with little surprise that there was not a single egg on the leaves. Today was not a very sunny or warm day and gravid females usually take at least a few days before they begin ovipositing. If our set up works, hopefully we will have dozens of eggs by the end of the week.
We have managed to hand-pair Eastern Tiger Swallowtails (Papilio glaucus) for the first time.
We are excited to annouce that we succeeded in obtaining our first hand-pairing of Eastern Tiger Swallowtails (Papilio glaucus). Three males and a black form female eclosed today, making five males and two females in total. The oldest two males were just over two days old, so we decided to have a go at hand-pairing the larger one with the newly eclosed female.
We have had years of experience hand-pairing Anise swallowtails which are extremely easy to do so, but we have never had a chance to hand-pair Tiger (Glaucus group) swallowtails simply because we have never obtained a male and virgin female at the same time. Our first step in hand-pairing the glaucuses was feeding the male, since the success of the hand-paring is almost solely dependent on him (the female will usually accept any partner because she has no choice, but the male may or may not be cooperative); fully fed males tend to be more receptive. We first fed him a bit of sugar/water solution and then fed him a mixture of mud, sugar, salt, and water. If your wondering why mud and salt, it's because male swallowtails often drink from mud puddles to obtain salts and minerals in order to make his spermataphore (the sperm package given to the female partner during copulation) more nutritious which increases her egg production. So, after the male swallowtail drank his fill, we went ahead and tried hand-pairing him with the newly eclosed just females just as we would with Anise swallowtails, and they were paired within a few minutes. We set them in a container to do their business and they were already finished when we checked an hour later.
Now that we've gotten the hand-pairing part over with, here comes the real challenge -- getting the female to oviposite. We plan to set her up in a laundry bag enclosure just like we have done with Anises and Monarchs and put in some host plant branches inside. The only host plant that we have a lot of right now is plum (Prunus), so we'll definitely put a few in. However, it has been shown that Eastern Tiger Swallowtails prefer hosts in the Magnolia family (Magnoliaceae) such as Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) or Sweetbay Magnolia (Magnolia virginiana), especially in its southern range, and one study showed that females had three times stronger antennal sensitivity to tulip tree than to alternative hosts. Although there are no Tulip or Sweetbay Magnolia trees here, it may benefit us for solely oviposition purposes to go to a nursery and get one of these trees and then switch the larva over to other hosts that are more abundant here.
This timeline is a series of daily posts recording our observations on and experiences with various insects in Albany California and surrounding areas, from 2012-2017. Since we did not publish this site until 2016, posts before that were constructed retroactively. Starting in August 2017, we moved to Ithaca, New York; posts from there on can be viewed at Timeline 2017-present: Ithaca, New York.
August 2017 (49)
July 2017 (121)
June 2017 (79)
May 2017 (77)
April 2017 (91)
March 2017 (35)
February 2017 (12)
January 2017 (10)
December 2016 (12)
November 2016 (26)
October 2016 (49)
September 2016 (84)
August 2016 (94)
July 2016 (99)
June 2016 (53)
May 2016 (21)
April 2016 (4)
January 2016 (1)
August 2015 (3)
July 2015 (3)
June 2015 (2)
June 2014 (3)
May 2014 (1)
April 2014 (3)
March 2014 (3)
December 2013 (2)
November 2013 (2)
October 2013 (5)
September 2013 (11)
August 2013 (15)
July 2013 (9)
June 2013 (5)
May 2013 (4)
April 2013 (3)
March 2013 (2)
February 2013 (3)
January 2013 (2)
December 2012 (2)
November 2012 (1)
October 2012 (2)
September 2012 (2)
August 2012 (5)
July 2012 (1)
June 2012 (1)
Full Species List
(Alphabetical by scientific name)
- Not every species we encounter is necessarily presented on this site, rather a selection of those that were of particular interest to us and that we felt were worth documenting.
- We can't guarantee that all species have been identified accurately, particularly taxa we are not as familiar with.
Battus philenor hirsuta
Coenonympha tullia california
Langia zenzeroides formosana
Orthosia hibisci quenquefasciata
Papilio machaon oregonius
Papilio polyxenes asterius
Samia cynthia advena
Papilio glaucus × Papilio rutulus
Papilio polyxenes asterius × Papilio zelicaon
Araneae (Class: Arachnida)