Tag Archives: Raising Butterflies

Yellow Sulphur Butterflies

19 Dec

A Life to Live

Melody Hendrix


The yellow butterflies you see around fall are the Sulphur butterflies. There are many variations, but all look similar.


Cloudless sulphur, a common year-round resident in much of peninsular Florida, the cloudless sulphur rapidly extends it range northward each spring and eventually establishes breeding colonies as far north as Canada and the Midwest by the end of summer. As cool autumn weather approaches, adults from the final generation begin a return migration, coming back to the Deep South to overwinter.


You may see them in most open, sunny areas such as roadsides, old fields, gardens, pastures, and fallow agricultural fields.

Larval Host Plants: Cloudless sulphur caterpillars use a various plants in the pea family including, Cassia tree, Partridge pea, sickle-pod senna, sensitive pea, wild senna, coffee senna  and Christmas senna or golden shower. Cloudless sulphurs may be found in all habitats when migrating, but breed in disturbed open areas where their caterpillar host plants and nectar plants are found. They have relatively long tongues and can reach the nectar of some tubular flowers that some other butterflies cannot. They have such a sweet fuzzy face and big eyes.


Males patrol for females throughout the day and especially around nectar. The male initiate courtship by making contact with the female’s wings either with his wings or legs. A receptive female usually flicks her wings and then closes them. Unless the female assumed a “mate refusal” posture (open wings and raised abdomen)


Eggs are laid singly on the host plant. Larvae live exposed (no shelter) and feed on foliage, buds and flowers.


At night, on dark, cloudy days, and during storms, adult cloudless sulphurs roost singly on leaves. Although the adults are brightly colored when flying, they seem to disappear against similarly colored leaves in the shade. The roost site may be low to the ground in shrubs with lots of foliage or high up in the leaves of trees.

The fall migration of cloudless sulphurs is the easiest to observe butterfly migration in the southeastern United States. (Monarchs are migrating at the same time, but they generally fly too high to see and are heading for Mexico. During fall, the numbers of cloudless sulphurs crossing an east-west line bisecting the Florida peninsula at the latitude of Gainesville may approach the numbers of monarchs overwintering in clusters at highly localized sites in Mexico.

 The seasonal migrations of cloudless sulphurs and monarchs are similar in that each species is abandoning large and favorable summer breeding areas that have lethally low winter temperatures for more favorable climates to the south. In the spring, surviving adults head northward and soon repopulate the summer breeding areas. In both species, the northward migration is evidenced by the reappearance each summer in the breeding areas they abandoned the previous fall.

It’s always so interesting to me how plants defend themselves against herbivores. Caterpillars can be quite destructive to it’s host plants. So many host plants grow extrafloral nectaries on the leaf petioles to attract predacious ants for protection.


Different plants grow different shaped cups, but they are all filled with nectar for the ants. The ants in return protect the plants from the herbivores. I find this fascinating how nature works.

Raising these yellow beauties is easy if you have the host plants, which for me is the Cassia tree. A beautiful tree that blooms in the fall in a fantastic display of yellow unusual looking blooms.


It’s chrysalis is much different than the monarch. You can see the butterfly colors through it the day before it emerges.


Next week we will explore our own Florida state butterfly, the Zebra Longwing.

Raising Eastern Black Swallowtail Butterflies

12 Dec

A Time to Live

Melody Hendrix



The Black Swallowtail butterfly is probably the second best known butterfly and one of the easiest to raise, next to the Monarch. It is found throughout much of North America. It is seen in Florida from February to October.

Their coloration and appearance change dramatically as they grow. Many spend the winter season as pupae, a middle stage of development, before finishing their transformation into butterflies in the spring.



They molt, or shed their skin, five times.

All species of swallowtail caterpillars have a special orange “forked gland”, called the osmeterium, that secretes bad-smelling and bad-tasting chemicals to help keep predators away. The caterpillar absorbs toxins from the host plants. When in danger, the osmeterium everts and releases the foul smell to repel predators.



Black swallowtail caterpillars eat and lay their eggs on a variety of herbs in the carrot family as host plants. Many of them poisonous such as the Queen Annes Lace. It’s best not to have them at all.  I have found dill, parsley and fennel (in that order) to be the safest and easiest plant to find and grow for host plants. If you plant enough, you may even have a little for yourself.

Black swallowtail caterpillars are eating machines, growing from .08 inches to 1.57 inches.



When a caterpillar is ready to pupate, it may crawl 100 feet or more away from its host plant. Once it has chosen a spot to pupate, it makes a large mat of silk from its spinnerets (under its head). In the midst of the mat of silk, it makes a small tight silk button

It crawls onto the mat and locks its anal prolegs on the silk button.



Then it makes a silk sling or girdle by touching its spinnerets down, moving its head up and over and down, up and over and down, dozens of times.

It ducks its head and upper body into the girdle and sits for a day.



The following day, the caterpillar literally splits its cuticle (skin) behind its head and wriggles out. The cuticle slowly moves downward to it’s rear and falls off the new chrysalis. The fresh chrysalis attaches its cremaster (rear end of the chrysalis), covered in tiny hooks, into the silk button.



Over the next hour, the chrysalis slowly reshapes into the classic Black Swallowtail chrysalis shape. Over the next 24 hours, it hardens. It will color it’s chrysalis to match the plant. You can see two examples in this picture above.

The day before the butterfly emerges, its tiny wings show through the chrysalis shell.



After emerging, it pumps hemolymph (blood) into its wings and the wings slowly expand into full size and shape.



If the weather is bad, you can wait a day after it emerges to release it. It does not eat the day it emerges. For extreme weather, you can keep adult male and female butterflies in the butterfly house with nectar and host plants and they will mate and lay eggs.



The black swallowtail is protandrous, meaning males emerge before females.  This emergence pattern is advantageous, because males that emerge earlier have a greater success in competing for superior territories, indicated by female preference. The superior territory is more important than body size.



Males can only mate twice a day, but females will mate more than once to replace a sperm supply that has deteriorated with time.

Usually, Black Swallowtails live about 10 to 12 days. Some however, can live up to 35 to 40 day while overwintering.

If you want to see a closeup and detailed view of the Black Swallowtail’s entire life cycle, I think you will really enjoy this video.



Next week will be another one of my favorites (maybe they are all favorites) of  the yellow sulphur butterflies. They have the sweetest face.




I am retired and enjoying life. My hobbies are my 5 grandchildren, son and daughter, and my loving husband. I am a photographer and extreme nature lover. I love spending time in my garden or in the wilderness connected to God my Creator.
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