Butterflies on Distant Hill
A Southern Species Moving North
The Giant Swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes) is the largest butterfly in Canada and the United States. Adults have a forewing span of 4 to almost 6 inches (avg. 5.5 inches) for males and a span of 5 to 7 inches (avg. 5.8 inches) for females. It is an uncommon stray in southern New Hampshire and Vermont, but we have had them here at Distant Hill Gardens for the past two years.
Is their presence in New England an example of climate change at work?
A paper published last year in Nature Climate Change seems to support that theory. They reported that many of the southern butterfly species in the US are packing up and moving north... "Our results suggest that a major, climate-induced shift of North American butterflies, characterized by northward expansions of warm-adapted and retreat of cold-adapted species, is underway."
The caterpillar of the Giant Swallowtail is as least as interesting as the butterfly. It looks exactly like a bird dropping, making it unappetizing to most insect-eaters. If it does happen to be threatened by a predator, a bright red, forked structure called an osmeterium emerges from its head, along with releasing a strong noxious odor.
The caterpillar has the nickname 'Orange Dog' due to preference for plants in the citrus family. It is very common in Florida and is considered a pest in the citrus groves throughout the State.
Here in northern New England, it will feed on Common Prickly Ash (Zanthoxylum americanum) or the Common Hop Tree (Ptelea trifoliata), if available. Both are native plants in the citrus family. Only the Prickly Ash can be found in this part of New Hampshire.
The only plant growing at Distant Hill Gardens that we have found Giant Swallowtail caterpillars feeding on is a Gas Plant (Dictamnus albus). It turns out that Dictamnus albus is in the same botanical family as
There is one other plant in the Rue family growing at Distant Hill Gardens, an Amur Corktree (Phellodendron amurense). We will have to keep an eye out for the Giant Swallowtail caterpillar feeding on its leaves.
Change is Good
- Simple metamorphosis: Grasshoppers, along with dragonflies and many other insects, go through simple metamorphosis. This is a 3 stage process: Egg to Nymph to Adult. The young nymphs usually look much like small wingless adults. The wings develop externally.
Here is a partial list of insects that use simple metamorphosis.
A Band-winged grasshopper in the Nymph stage of development. Note the short stubby wings.
A Band-winged grasshopper, in the Adult stage of its development. Note the long wings.
- Complex metamorphosis: Butterflies and moths undergo complex metamorphosis, in which there are 4 distinct stages: Egg to Larva to Pupa to Adult. With Complex metamorphosis, the immature insects and the adults have different forms, often live in different habitats, and may have very different behavior.
A Monarch caterpillar, the Larva stage of complex metamorphosis.
A Monarch chrysalis, the Pupa stage of complex metamorphosis.
A Monarch Butterfly, the Adult stage of complex metamorphosis.