Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Black swallowtail caterpillar

with 37 comments

When I wandered out onto a piece of the Blackland Prairie on the west side of Heatherwilde Blvd. in Pflugerville on April 30th, I noticed that one of the prairie parsley plants (Polytaenia nuttallii) was host to the caterpillar of an Eastern black swallowtail butterfly (Papilio polyxenes). You can learn more about this species in a Wikipedia article.

© 2017 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 8, 2017 at 5:01 AM

37 Responses

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  1. Excellent image of the caterpillar, and also of a swallowtail butterfly for the link you provided! For closer look into info about caterpillars and the insects (butterfly OR moth) they become, visit “Leggy Bugs—Caterpillars (Lepidopteran Larvae, which Become Butterflies and Moths)” at http://whilldtkwriter.blogspot.com/2017/03/leggy-bugscaterpillars-lepidopteran.html.


    May 8, 2017 at 5:34 AM

    • Thanks for your post and the NC State site you linked to in it, from which I learned that “Most entomologists believe that [Lepidopteran] scales are structurally related to the hair (setae) covering adult caddisflies…,” and that “moths probably diverged from caddisflies in the early Triassic period, about 230 million years ago….”

      What an interesting site is the one at http://www.diffen.com, which compares many sorts of things to many others, like butterflies and moths that you linked to at http://www.diffen.com.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 8, 2017 at 7:03 AM

      • Enjoyed educating myself while doing the caterpillar research. BTW, love those goth “toenails” on the real legs (at front) and goth spots on the prolegs of your subject!


        May 8, 2017 at 2:38 PM

        • Shakespeare wrote in The Tempest that “What’s past is prologue.” I say “What’s in this post is prolegs.”

          You have a good imagination to see toenails and goth spots.

          Steve Schwartzman

          May 8, 2017 at 4:54 PM

  2. A beauty…


    May 8, 2017 at 6:47 AM

  3. You capture some of the most amazing pics!
    This is really cool! Thanks.


    May 8, 2017 at 7:25 AM

    • You’re welcome. This caterpillar struck me as especially fresh and plump. I took a dozen pictures of it, and this is the one in which I most liked the way the background came out.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 8, 2017 at 7:49 AM

  4. Beautiful Picture i must say. As an photographer i can understand how much efforts and dedication must have required to capture pictures like this. Appreciate your hard work and efforts. Even i am also Nature and Wildlife Photographer so i love to see other’s work so that i could inspire myself and learn. You can have a look at my work at http://nitinkhanna.net/ and let me know how is it. I would love to hear from photographer like you.

    Nitin Khanna

    May 8, 2017 at 7:48 AM

  5. Nice parallel capture against a perfect background, Steve. I look forward to them on our parsley every year. We don’t get to enjoy the parsley but it’s worth it. Watching them develop is fun as they start out as fuzzy spiky little blips crawling on the stems and eventually morphing into nice fat plump larvae like yours munching the leaves to little stumps. I’ve yet to find a chrysalis after they leave the plants…assuming no one gobbled them up.

    Steve Gingold

    May 8, 2017 at 8:35 AM

    • There was a bit of softness in focus at the right end of the caterpillar, but I sacrificed that for getting the important parts sharp. And yes, I was pleased with how well the details of the prairie turned into a featureless background.

      Speaking of gobbling, I wish our native Texas parsley were palatable, but after nibbling a leaf some years ago I can confirm that it’s not—at least not to people. The swallowtail caterpillars like it just fine.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 8, 2017 at 9:16 AM

  6. wonderful! tender


    May 8, 2017 at 2:05 PM

  7. What a beautiful composition and image!


    May 8, 2017 at 3:43 PM

    • The caterpillar was in a good place for me to get alongside, and fortunately the background was far enough away to provide good tonality without any details.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 8, 2017 at 4:40 PM

  8. We watched as one of ours did something of an Incredible Hulk, breaking out of his pretty skin, into a softer bigger green one, and finally hardening into the chrysalis. Fun to watch with the eyes. Can’t wait to see him emerge! Beautiful shot, Steve.


    May 8, 2017 at 8:46 PM

    • Thanks, Shannon. I was happy with the caterpillar and the background (as well as plenty of plants in the area). This picture was a one-time thing, while you’ll have gotten to follow the whole progression. That’s the advantage you derive from raising one of these critters.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 8, 2017 at 8:52 PM

  9. When I wandered onto the Nash prairie on Sunday morning, I was able to photograph a black swallowtail butterfly flitting among the rough-stem rosinweeds. I’ve never seen its caterpillar, but I’d love to. It’s such a handsome thing, and you’ve photographed it beautifully. It certainly is pleasingly plump. How long was it? I’d guess perhaps two inches.


    May 8, 2017 at 10:13 PM

    • Are the rough-stem rosinweeds already flowering over there? Here in Austin the Silphiums are normally summer bloomers.

      To find caterpillars to match your black swallowtail butterfly, check out as many plants as you can in the parsley family. I didn’t measure the length of the handsome caterpillar (the most pristine I’ve ever seen) in this photograph, but I’d guess about an inch and a half.

      Your mention of Nash Prairie suddenly made me think of the old cars that bore that name.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 8, 2017 at 10:23 PM

      • The rosinweeds are blooming on the Nash, but not everywhere — and not even all over the Nash. We were on a portion of the prairie that was burned in October, and that section is filled with Liatris punctata and Rudbeckia hirta, as well as rosinweed. If I understand rightly, the additional warmth allowed by getting rid of the grasses and thatch has allowed for the earlier bloom.


        May 8, 2017 at 10:43 PM

        • That makes sense. I hadn’t thought about fire as a reason plants would flower earlier than usual.

          Steve Schwartzman

          May 9, 2017 at 5:42 AM

  10. […] couple of posts back you saw an Eastern black swallowtail caterpillar that I found on a prairie parsley plant (Polytaenia nuttallii) when I visited the Blackland Prairie […]

  11. that is a beauty!

    last week a ten-year old and i were in pursuit of a lovely yellow and black swallowtail, though it stayed beyond our grasps – or out of range for a photo… it’s nice to see this one, which i missed when it rolled out – i think that was the day i drove to manta and back — after two days of a ‘dead internet’ in town! thanks for mentioning it in the ‘parsley’ post!

    • You’re welcome. I often cross-reference my pictures to provide more context. Compensating for a dead internet is an unplanned fringe benefit. I’m sorry you and the ten-year-old missed your swallowtail. I expect there’ll be plenty more.

      I looked up how to say swallowtail butterfly in Spanish and found mariposa cola de golondrina. As is often the case, the Spanish has many more syllables than the English.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 10, 2017 at 8:39 AM

      • mariposa cola de golondrina. — thanks for that! i’ll pass it along to young jesus, who is rapt with interest about birds and is often bored… he’s like a sponge and will appreciate knowing that name!

        • When I looked online I found various instances of “mariposa (de) cola de golondrina.” As you know, though, terms can differ from country to country and I wasn’t able to determine if there’s a different Ecuadorian name for this sort of butterfly. In any case, I don’t think Jesús can go wrong with the standard Spanish name, which you’ve noticed is a literal translation of the English term.

          Steve Schwartzman

          May 10, 2017 at 9:39 AM

  12. Wonderful shot. We planted a pot of parsley last week – so I hope to see these soon!!


    May 11, 2017 at 6:50 AM

  13. A handsome caterpillar .. I’m sure it has a handsome appetite too


    May 11, 2017 at 2:03 PM

  14. Wonderful, Steve.
    i used to see both the larva and the adults routinely through the summer but not at all for awhile.


    July 19, 2017 at 9:40 AM

    • It would be a shame if the species has disappeared from your area. Such an immaculate specimen against such a neutral background was a great opportunity for a portrait.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 19, 2017 at 10:32 AM

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