Posts Tagged ‘wild cherry tree’

Red Spotted Purple Caterpillars

IMG_6444 crop

This morning started with watching a female red-spotted purple butterfly laying eggs in a young wild cherry tree.

IMG_6459 crop

The female taps the leaves with her feet to be sure she’s in the right tree. Butterflies smell with their feet.

The egg on the left is definitely the egg of a red-spotted purple butterfly. Something’s not right with the egg on the tip of the leaf.

IMG_6464 crop red

This young wild cherry tree almost gets lost among all the other nearby growth nearby. All these pictures were taken in it.

IMG_6779 crop

The caterpillar measured 5mm. The three I found were all approximately the same size. They usually dangle a small cluster of leaf pieces to attract attention away from the caterpillar. The predator must be an immature, just like the caterpillar.

IMG_6811 crop

 The position of the caterpillar looks like it’s either paralyzed or dead.

 IMG_6842 crop red

This last caterpillar looks a tad odd: maybe it just molted. What looks like antennae, is a split from the drying vein of the leaf.  The way the leaf is cut away, the bare center vein and the dangling leaf pieces are definitely done by the caterpillar of red-spotted purple butterfly.

Tiger Swallowtail

I actually saw a butterfly today. It’s the first in 4 days. Their number’s have been the lowest I ever remember seeing, and I contribute it to the Arctic winter.


The eastern tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) is usually a common butterfly here in southern Illinois.


Their caterpillar host trees include: wild cherry, tulip tree, poplar, ash, cottonwood and willow.


They have 2 broods in our area, and 3 in the southern states.


They overwinter as a chrysalis,


and begin flying early in March.


This partially grown caterpillar was in a wild cherry tree  in the yard last summer.


A fully-grown one was nearby in the same tree. Its brown color shows that it’d emptied its digestive system and was preparing to form a chrysalis.


Female tiger swallowtails also have a dark form.


It’s thought to mimic the pipevine swallowtail.

Eggs and a Predator

While searching the wild cherry tree for a hibernating caterpillar, I found an egg mass.

Eastern tent caterpillars will hatch from these in the spring … unless the spider I saw when I found them, decides to return. The white area shows where the spider had gotten through the dried foam to the eggs. The egg mass measured 1/2 inch long.

The uncooperative spider didn’t like my being there. Its silhouetted on the right side of the branch, with its abdomen down. The little bump is its cephalothorax (fused head and thorax). Legs go on up together from the body. I don’t know how many of its 8 legs do that.

I’ve seen tent caterpillar egg masses eaten or partially eaten before. I never suspected a spider … not that I’d given it much thought.

Caterpillar Diary — September 28

This is the last 0f 4 posts about the little red-spotted purple butterfly’s caterpillar I found in one of our wild cherry trees.

The caterpillar rested on the leaf last night. I used a flashlight to get this picture. It has the leaf shapes cut out that will become its hibernaculum where it will spend the winter.

I found the caterpillar in its hibernaculum early this morning. I had hoped I could watch more of the process, even though I knew they worked mainly at night. Its shelter measures 3/8 inch long and the overall length is 3/4 inch.

I always thought the caterpillar backed in, but apparently it doesn’t.

Next trip out I found the caterpillar eating on another leaf, looking like it was going to make another hibernaculum. Was the first one  uncomfortable? Was the caterpillar bored? It hasn’t returned since, so maybe it was hungry?

This picture better shows the back end of the caterpillar. The caterpillar is less than 1/2 inch long. I’m estimating its size, not wanting to disturb it anymore than with my presence.

The caterpillar hasn’t come out again since this picture was taken that I know of.

Look close at the base of the leaf stalk, and you’ll see where the caterpillar used silk to bind the leaf to the branch to prevent it from falling off during the winter. It covered the top of the remaining leaf pieces with a sheet of silk. The silk shrunk and dried, curling the leaf in the process.

Now, imagine the caterpillar spending the winter in this shelter, through the possible below-zero temperatures, snow storms, ice storms, not eating. They go into diapause in which their development stops This gets into a chemical explanation. It’s one of those things I find amazing and don’t completely understand how it’s possible. Some butterfly species overwinter as adults, some as chrysalis, others as caterpillars and the rest in their egg.

 Red-spotted purples usually start flying in May here in southern Illinois.

They are closely related to the viceroy butterfly. Their caterpillars closely resemble each other, and each can be either green or brown. Most of the red-spotted purples I’ve seen are brown. Patterns of both caterpillars mimic bird droppings.

Viceroy butterflies mimic the monarch butterfly, except for an extra black band on their hindwings that the monarchs don’t have.

Both red-spotted purples and viceroys are in a family of butterflies known as brush-foots. Their front pair of legs are greatly reduced to where they look like they only have 4 legs, instead of 6. Besides flowers, many of them feed on rotten fruit and at sap flows.

 With any luck at all, this little caterpillar will survive and I can watch its development to adult in the spring.

A VERY Interesting Caterpillar

I’ve looked occasionally throughout most of the summer for the caterpillars of the red spotted purple butterfly (Limenitis arthemis). One problem was only seeing 4 or 5 of the butterflies.  Then, today’s September 9th search turned up one of the tiny caterpillars!

Like I said, it’s tiny. They have one of the most amazing life history of any butterfly (in my opinion). They use so many defense methods throughout their development.

First the female butterfly lays a tiny white egg at the very tip of the leaf, in this case, a wild cherry tree. (They also use willow and apple.) The teeny caterpillar hatches and eats its egg shell.

Then the caterpillar eats the leaf on both sides of the central vein. The vein gradually curves as it dries. The caterpillar also cuts off leaf pieces and attaches them so they dangle in a ball-like shape. Any movement of the leaf causes the ball to swing, and  attracts the attention of a predator away from the caterpillar. It spends most of its time at the end of the vein and tends to be active later in the day.


The above happened day before yesterday. Tonight, I found another caterpillar in the same tree and the same age as the first!

Notice in the pictures how the caterpillars eat the leaf toward the vein so it leaves a piece of the leaf. These 2 caterpillars are 4-5mm long, and their color’s similar to the central vein.

Many years ago wild cherry trees practically lined the side of the road along my rural property. I spent so much time observing, drawing and journaling the experiences. I learned how the female butterfly knew if she was on the right plant — she tapped the leaves with her 2 front feet. That’s how they smell.

Predation is high among caterpillars. I do so hope these 2 escape detection, and you can experience their development through my blog. My fingers are crossed.


I just checked (September 16) and the second caterpillar I found was gone. The first one had molted and its appearance changed slightly.

With it this late in the summer, I think the caterpillar will overwinter as a caterpillar.


September 18. I just had a scare. I checked to see if the caterpillar survived our strong winds today. No caterpillar. I walked away, sad, and walked back for some reason. There was the little caterpillar moving along the midvein toward the end of the leaf. By the time I got back with the camera, this was my best shot. It was windy and 5 minutes from sunset.

Compare the shape of the leaf in this picture with the picture above.

My fingers are still crossed for its survival!