We planted a Hop Tree in the back yard after taking a butterfly course with Chris Earley at the arboretum. Chris recommended Hop Trees for attracting swallowtails since the caterpillars use it as a food source. It took about 3-4 years for the tree to grow big enough to attract the butterflies. One summer day a few years ago, a giant swallowtail visited the tree and lay perfect little pink eggs on the leaves. After a few days of watching the eggs, we noticed that they were disappearing! Black ants were busy eating the little eggs. Once the tree grew a little more (one more year), the ants had a harder time finding the eggs and we were finally able to observe swallowtail caterpillars. It was well worth the wait:)
Here are some beautiful photos of swallowtail caterpillars taken at the farm in the summer of 2012:*
*I love the sky blue colour that shows up on each caterpillar’s markings.
It is amazing how these caterpillars look just like bird poop! Their camouflage is truly exceptional. If that survival strategy does not work for them, they have another really awesome skill that makes them look snake-like. If bothered, these caterpillars project a forked, fleshy organ called an osmeterium that looks similar to a snake’s tongue. In addition to the visual surprise, this organ also smells really bad – kind of stinky sweet. Here is a photo to show you what that looks like: