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Debbie Hadley

Black Swallowtails Tucked in for the Winter

By January 4, 2008

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Black Swallowtail Chrysalid

Less than a month ago, I spotted a lone Black Swallowtail caterpillar munching away on the forgotten celery in my garden. Despite several short cold spells, this determined fellow had survived and was going about his business as if spring were around the corner. The next day, the caterpillar was gone, presumably headed off to bed for the cold winter ahead.

Black Swallowtails (Papilio polyxenes) overwinter in their pupal stage, and emerge as adult butterflies when spring arrives. I've searched the garden fence and nearby shrubs, hoping to find a new chrysalis, without success. The Black Swallowtail is well-camouflaged in its brown pupal case. I don't expect to see it again until the warm weather returns.

Learn more about butterflies and moths:

Photo: Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University, Bugwood.org


August 27, 2009 at 6:17 pm
(1) Danielle says:

Hi there. I have a question. I found 2 black swallowtail caterpillars. One became a butterfly the other is still in the chrysalis stage for about 17 days now. How long does this stage usually last? Im just getting a little anxious and would love to see that beautiful butterfly again!! If you get back to me I would greatly appreciate the information!! Danielle

August 27, 2009 at 6:49 pm
(2) insects says:

That’s a pretty long time for a black swallowtail to remain in the chrysalis (usually, it’s just under two weeks), but don’t give up hope yet. The pupal stage is influenced by environmental factors, not the least of which is temperature. Also, black swallowtails overwinter in the pupal stage, so if you are in a far northern area, it’s possible this one is tucked away for the winter already. I’ve had many chrysalids of different species that I thought were “duds” for sure, only to have them surprise me and emerge weeks late.

October 22, 2010 at 1:06 pm
(3) Stitching Queen says:

We just had a black swallowtail we’d had on our kitchen counter eclose Tuesday morning – 36 days after it formed the chrysalis. We kept another one 2-3 years ago, and I remember that one also took a LONG time to eclose but we didn’t keep records so I don’t know how long. Having read a bit more now, it seems we should have kept it out in the garage over winter because we’re in Wisconsin and temps were down in the 20s last night. I didn’t know until today what they did over winter. Sorry guy/gal (we need to look at the pictures to see if ours was male or female-just learned today how to tell the difference).

September 1, 2011 at 7:43 am
(4) Lisa says:

How long are the black swallowtails in the caterpillar stage? We have some that look like they are close to pupating and others that look pretty young, and I was wondering how long the various instars were. I could find length of time for eggs, pupas and butterflies, but not the caterpillars. Does anyone know where I can find this information?

October 12, 2013 at 11:37 am
(5) Christine says:

Live in Manchester, New Jersey, found two caterpillars on our parsley plant during a cold spell in September (2013) brought it inside and watch them turn into a chrysalis. Each one at a different time. Being it was so late in the season I thought that was the end of it til Spring. I was going to put them in the garage over the winter. On Oct. 11th the second chrysalis became a black swallow tail butterfly and is now flying around my house. Now what am I suppose to do with this beautiful butterfly, is it too late to release him. It’s a male, has more yellow.

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