While walking through our meadow one evening, we spotted an Eastern Black Swallowtail caterpillar dining on some Queen Anne's Lace. (That's him hanging upside down in the bottom left corner of the photo to the left.) We brought him inside and continued to find fresh food for his dining pleasure for nearly a week before we were rewarded by a bright green chrysalis. The picture's not great, but it's so cool to watch the transformation. The caterpillar eats and eats and gets huge. Then, it dumps all the waste food and liquid in its body and begins climbing all around, looking for a suitable attachment point. Once settled, it begins to curl and shrink, resembling a chrysalis shape but still very obviously a caterpillar. Next morning, voila! A chrysalis.
After several days of checking on the chrysalis, the kids eventually forget about it and go about their business. The other morning upon first waking and sitting down on the couch, Julia spotted something black and moving--the butterly had awakened! You can see the butterfly drying his wings right next to the now brown, discarded chrysalis. As we brought the butterfly outside where he could fly free once his wings dried, we got a really good look at the beautiful markings on his wings--the orange eyes, yellow and blue on the top, and the orange on the underside. By checking out the coloring, more yellow than blue on the top, we were able to confirm that our caterpillar had, indeed, been a "he." Now, we look for him while out walking, squinting hard trying to catch sign of color or size that might distinguish him from the other black swallowtails floating through the flowertops.
Our meadow is home to some amazing creatures, which we only hope to increase in the coming years by diligent native habitat management. We plan to increase the number of host plants for insects, place birdhouses and plant native berry plants and winter food for the birds, hang bat houses, put out salt licks for the deer in winter--ahh, we have grand plans. While walking this week, we found an argiope web, distinctive because of its zig-zag writing pattern in the center, and very quickly spotted its maker off in the corner, apparently resting after her exertions wrapping the week's meal. Often called a black and yellow garden spider or garden writing spider, the Black and Yellow Argiope is stunning and somewhat imposing due to the female's massive size. This argiope's abdomen was more than an inch long, and she's been snacking on a good size grasshopper throughout the week. We'll be keeping an eye out for the possible egg sack in the coming weeks.