Caterpillars Make Do With What They’ve Got

by Karen Laslo

If you can’t find what you’re looking for, take a look at what you’ve got. The black and red-dotted caterpillar phase of the Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly sets a good example of this parable for humans.

photo by Karen Laslo
Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillars feed mostly on the native Pipevine plant that contains a toxic substance that also makes the caterpillars toxic, so that birds and other predators leave them alone.

Normally, in a more natural setting, the caterpillars attach themselves to rocks or trees. But in lower Bidwell Park’s recent freeway construction site, these familiar objects have been stripped away. In the absence of the customary, the caterpillars must improvise.

photo by Karen Laslo
This photo shows the Pipevine Swallowtail chrysalises attached to freeway structures in Bidwell Park.

photo by Karen Laslo
This photo shows a close-up view of the Pipevine Swallowtail chrysalises.

They do so by hauling themselves up the sides of the concrete freeway supports where they attach and weave a protective, hard shell around themselves.

This phase of the Pipevine Swallowtail is the “chrysalis.” Don Miller, professor of entomology at CSU Chico, says, “Many will emerge next spring, although some may wait another year.”

photo by Karen Laslo
The Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly (local subspecies Battus philenor hirsuta).

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