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by Tony Gomez

4 years ago

Raising Butterflies Blog

How to Raise Eastern Tiger Swallowtails- Butterfly Life Cycle Photos

Our first-hand experience raising eastern tiger swallowtail butterflies with lots of colorful photos + helpful raising tips

4 years ago


By Tony Gomez

How to Raise Eastern Tiger Swallowtails through the Butterfly Life Cycle

by Tony Gomez

4 years ago

How To Raise Eastern Tiger Swallowtails through all 4 stages of the Butterfly Life Cycle

Raising the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly- A Butterfly Photo Adventure from Tiger Swallowtail Egg to Butterfly

It all started last season, when our yard garden was taken over by a swarm of eastern tiger swallowtails (Papilio glaucus). We always have a few wander in over the season, but last July something spectacular happened. We had about eight tiger swallowtails hanging out in our garden in July and part of August…every day!

They were very friendly and often followed us around as we were tending to the butterfly garden. They liked many of the same nectar flowers as the monarchs, but their home base was the Mexican sunflowers.

Earlier that spring, we had added two chokecherry trees in hopes of hosting some of their eggs and baby caterpillars. After that amazing season, I was determined to offer them more options to entice them to stay.

Unlike milkweed-obsessed monarchs, the eastern tiger swallowtail will lay eggs on a wide range of host plants. Their butterfly life cycle also takes up to 2 months, so the odds are stacked against northern gardeners wanting to raise them with fewer generations and more plants to search!

We didn’t have enough space to add full-grown trees, so we stuck with some smaller host options. We planted a waferash tree, a slow-grower that tops out at 20 feet. We also planted a black cherry tree…in a container!

If you’re interested in learning more about (or purchasing) tiger swallowtail host plants, get more info on my butterfly plants page

Our summer of tigers was continued with record numbers next spring. I was hopeful that our new host plant additions would catch their attention…

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Eggs

On May 13th I was planting in our garden. I looked up and a large tiger female almost flew right into me.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail can be distinguished from the males by the blue coloration of the bottom of their hindwingsA Springtime Swallowtail Makes an Unexpected Visit

We had just bought our new host plants 3 days before, and they had not been permanently planted. That meant there just one in-ground option to check for eggs…our chokecherry trees!

I looked at the first tree, which had fading blooms, and noticed there were lots of potential predators (e.g. ants, spiders) crawling around. The second tree was a few feet away and would not bloom this spring. There were no predators crawling around, but I came across 3 curiously camouflaged circles on separate leaves…

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Eggs on Chokecherry LeavesSweet Spring Surprise

I consulted mother google to confirm my greatest hopes, and I was ready to raise!

Other host plants for eastern tiger swallowtail caterpillars include Prunus serotina (wild black cherry), Liriodendron tulipifera (tulip tree), and Magnolia virginiana (sweet bay magnolia).

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Caterpillars

A baby tiger swallowtail's first meal is its nutrition-laced egg shell. Learn more about the butterfly life cycle and raising swallowtail butterflies.Baby’s First Meal

The eggs took a full week to hatch. All 3 baby caterpillars quickly darkened with white saddles across their backs. A closer look reveals the beginnings of false eyes that will become more prominent later. These false eyes are supposed to fool predators into thinking the caterpillar is actually a snake. It’s hard to believe this snaky disguise would fool very many or for very long…

A close-up look at an instar 2 eastern tiger swallowtail caterpillar starting to form false eyes on its head.

When raising small monarch caterpillars, I typically wrap wet cotton and tin foil around common milkweed leaf petioles to keep the leaves fresh. This method worked horribly with wafer thin chokecherry leaves. I picked up a new raising tool and it became a cherry lifesaver! Check out floral tubes and other helpful raising tools on my Raising Resource Page

Floral tubes keep wafer thin chokecherry leaves fresh for days when raising eastern tiger swallowtail caterpillars.Floral Tubes for Chokecherry Cuttings

As the tiger swallowtails continued to grow, they started to go through some major changes…what I affectionately call the awkward teenage phase. Each caterpillar starts to turn green, as the false eyes turn blue with outer orange rims. There are also small purple dots from its false eyespots down to its final pair of prolegs…zits?

The instar 3 swallowtail caterpillar is going through that awkward teenage phase- raising eastern tiger swallowtails through the butterfly life cycleRarrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!

So, if those are false eyes, you’re probably wondering what the actual eastern tiger caterpillar’s head looks like?

The false eyes are not the actual head of the eastern tiger swallowtail caterpillar. The red, shiny object up front is the real deal- Raising Eastern Tiger Swallowtail ButterfliesShiny Red Head

The changes continue as the caterpillar sheds its skin to enter the next stage of development or instar…

Instar 4 Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Caterpillar- the caterpillar turns green, the false eyes are now fully visible, and the white saddle is starting to disappear...Bird’s Eye View

Instar 4 from a cuter angle…awwwwww

Instar 4 eastern tiger swallowtail caterpillars with convincing false eyesAwwwwwwww

In the 5th and final instar, before forming its chrysalis, the caterpillar turns green as its white saddle has completely disappeared. It does, however, retain it’s yellow ring and purple dots.

5th Instar Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Caterpillar- the final stage before forming a chrysalis

Instar five caterpillars finally start to show some serious growth:

Raising Tiger Swallowtail Butterflies- instar 5 eastern tiger swallowtail caterpillars finally show some serious growth in this final period of caterpillar development

The Chrysalides (or Chrysalises)

When the caterpillar coloration starts to resemble a UPS truck, you’ll know the next phase of caterpillar transformation is about to begin…

As the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail nears the third stage of the butterfly life cycle, it will turn from green to a deep shade of brownHowdy Ho!

Shortly after the caterpillar turns brown, it purges out undigested food. Many are alarmed when they see this and think the caterpillar is sick. Don’t worry, it’s what the cat needs to do before taking things to the next level of metamorphosis.

Before the eastern tiger swallowtail caterpillar searches for a place to pupate, it will purge out one final frassy mess of undigested food. Never fear, this is a normal part of tiger swallowtail metamorphosisBlaaaaaaarrrrggghhhhhhh

I had thought I was being smart by putting a stick inside the cage for them to form their chrysalides on. My plan was to remove the stick after all four had pupated so I could have the cage back for raising monarchs. Only one complied…

An eastern tiger swallowtail forms it's chrysalis on a stick placed inside the caterpillar cage.

The remaining three caterpillars formed a conga line on the upper corner of their mesh caterpillar cage:

Tiger swallowtail chrysalides in the corner of their mesh cage- swallowtail butterfly life cycle stage 3

The third caterpillar then proceeded to attach himself to the bottom of the second chrysalis…

This tiger swallowtail caterpillar attached himself to the bottom of another chrysalis. What did we do to insure both butterflies could safely emerge?- Raising Eastern Tiger SwallowtailsThe PERFECT Place to Form a Chrysalis?

Close quarters isn’t necessarily a problem, but keep in mind they can stay in chrysalis for for weeks, or even months. So, if you’re concerned about chrysalis placement or just want your cage back sooner, here’s a solution to solve all your chrysalis problems

A monarch chrysalis will hatch reliably in 7-10 days, but the swallowtail family is on their own schedule. They can take 2-3 weeks, or longer if they see fit. If you’re raising toward the end of the season, they may even decide to overwinter until next season.

Since my raising adventure started in early spring, all four butterflies eclosed by mid-July. The fifth caterpillar fell from a chokecherry cutting while attempting to molt (shed its skin). It was a small caterpillar and did not recover from the fall.

4 Eastern Tigers raised later in the season, will overwinter as chrysalides in our 3-season porch. They won’t hatch until next spring…

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterflies

The first two that emerged from their chrysalides were males. I let each one sun dry outside in the mesh cage for a couple hours, and then released them. They were magnificent and both had strong wings!

Having the chrysalises bunched together was not an issue, as each butterfly emerged on a different day.

An eastern tiger swallowtail male emerges from swallowtail chrysalis
Raising Eastern Tiger Swallowtails- an eastern tiger swallowtail male sun dries in his cage outside before being released back to nature

After the males were successfully released came two big surprises! The last two butterflies were female, but they were not your typical eastern tiger swallowtail female…they were both dark form!

It is believed that dark form tiger swallowtails are a defense mechanism against potential predators like birds. The dark form females are supposed to mimic the poisonous pipevine swallowtail, which can make some predators sick….

Raising Swallowtails through the butterfly life cycle- it's believed that some eastern tiger swallowtails are created in dark form to mimic the poisonous pipevine swallowtail butterfly.

Both females were also healthy and the final female took a rest on our butterfly bush before disappearing up high into the trees. Raising the eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly was a truly fantastic experience we hope to continue next season…I hope you can too!

Raising Eastern Tiger Swallowtails- On some dark form butterflies, you can clearly see the tiger swallowtail markings under the dark cloak when revealed by the bright sun.

Would you like to start raising eastern tiger swallowtails through all 4 stages of the butterfly life cycle? Click here for butterfly cages and helpful raising supplies.

Happy Raising!