The Swallowtail Who Stole My Heart

I’ve been away from my blog for a month and I have no excuse except that I have been tending to my caterpillars. I have so much to share about my recent experience raising swallowtail butterflies, but first and foremost I must share an experience that brings tears to my eyes even now. It’s a story about a swallowtail. And me. And true love. And magic.

My first healthy Anise Swallowtail!
My first healthy Anise Swallowtail!

First let me say that raising swallowtails is so much easier than raising monarchs! They don’t seem as susceptible to nasty parasites or diseases, and they eat a lot less. Less food means an easier feeding schedule and a lot less poop to clean up, both of which I appreciate. Nevertheless, there is always a chance that something can go wrong, and this story begins with a poor Anise Swallowtail who was stuck in her chrysalis.

Healthy Anise Swallowtail Butterfly
Healthy Anise Swallowtail recently eclosed from chrysalis

Unlike monarchs which will hang out until you forcibly (gently, of course) remove them from your hand, shirt, head, or wherever they happen to land while they test their wings, swallowtails are extremely timid creatures. I knew this because I’d had the pleasure of watching two healthy swallowtails climb from their chrysalides, dry their wings and fly off. I found that when I went to release them from their enclosures they were absolutely terrified and flew off as fast as humanly butterfly-ly possible. So when I went to check the enclosure one morning and saw that a newly emerged swallowtail had a piece of shell stuck around her wing I wasn’t sure what to do.

Anise Swallowtail stuck in chrysalis
Poor baby. You can see the threads from her abdomen and where the chrysalis came loose during her struggle to break free.

I knew her wing couldn’t expand and dry if she didn’t get it free so I decided to remove it, despite her obvious discomfort at having me anywhere near. Her wing free, she began trying to pull herself out of the chrysalis. She pulled and pushed but was clearly stuck. I allowed her to struggle for a while knowing it would be better if she released herself.

I noticed that in her struggle the chrysalis had come loose from the branch it was tied to, giving her no leverage to pull her body free. I also saw that the silk strings they produce to attach the chrysalis with were still attached to her abdomen. None of this boded well but she she was fighting so hard and seemed so strong that I had to help. Eventually she tired and when she did I held her chrysalis and tried to remove it, first with pliers then with tweezers, gently peeling the shell from her body. Neither of us enjoyed this process but eventually I pulled her free and she was able to hang and dry her wings.

Deformed anise swallowtail just emerged with help
My little deformed baby’s wing is slightly crumpled and her body is bent and underweight

Unfortunately, one wing had dried before straightening completely and her little body was deformed. Nevertheless she was driven by instinct and she soon took flight… and landed in my potting tools 2′ away. A few more attempts proved futile so I scooped her up walked around the garden with her, speaking quietly, telling her how pretty she was and encouraging her to fly. Eventually I placed her in a high spot in the garden to see if she would take flight. Several hours later she was still there so to protect her from the phoebes who hunt in the evening I placed her back in the enclosure with the door propped open. The next morning she was gone. I was hoping for the best, but fearing the worst. I looked everywhere but there was no sign of her that day or the next. The day after that is when the magic kicked in.

I was working in the shop in the back yard and had gone into the house for a drink. On my way back I was lingering in the garden. I stopped to pick some beans (at least I eat healthy snacks while procrastinating) and I was talking to the beans, telling them how pretty they were, when suddenly something leapt onto my stomach. Fully expecting something terrifying I looked down and there was my little deformed swallowtail, clinging to my shirt and staring up at me! I couldn’t believe this timid little creature had attached herself to me. I put out my hand and she climbed onto my finger then made herself comfortable in my palm. I wasn’t sure what she needed, so we just strolled around the garden.

Deformed anise swallowtail returns
She came back to visit and show me her mad flying skillz!

We hung out for about five minutes when suddenly a strong breeze kicked up. It whipped around us and slowly she began flapping her wings. Moments later she was up in the air! She did a quick loop-de-loo, landing on the side of the house probably as shocked as I was. A second later she took off again and sailed up and over the house! I just about burst into tears. It was pure magic.

I like to think that she wanted to let me know she was okay and that I could stop worrying. Who knew swallowtails were so thoughtful? Of course as happy as I was to see her fly off I missed her immediately and haven’t stopped hoping to catch sight of her, as unlikely as it may be. But for me this story is proof that unlikely doesn’t mean impossible, and so I keep looking, smiling every time a swallowtail flutters overhead.

And that’s the story of how a little deformed swallowtail stole my heart. Next up… Giant Swallowtails and their mysterious transformation from tiny pokey caterpillars that look like bird-poop into the largest and possibly most dramatic butterflies in North America. Is the suspense just killing you?

 

~~~~~~~~~ THE END ~~~~~~~~~~

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25 Comments Add yours

  1. Anonymous says:

    I love this touching story and am certain the swallowtail returned to thank you. You have inspired me to start raising butterflies so pls. keep the stories coming!!
    Barbara

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    1. Sheri Fox says:

      Thank you so much Barbara, that is awesome to hear that I’ve inspired a new butterfly wrangler! Hopefully I’ll stay focused and share more stories soon and also share some practical info. If you haven’t seen them yet I do have several posts about raising monarchs 🙂

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  2. Hilda says:

    Remarkable story and so glad it had a happy ending. I am always fascinated by what I learn about the intelligence of the small creatures. Look forward to more of your butterfly tales.

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    1. Sheri Fox says:

      Glad you enjoyed it Hilda! I’m glad it was a happy ending too. I tend not to share those that aren’t as I like to consider my blog a happy place full of pretty pictures 🙂

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  3. Anonymous says:

    I love your story! So beautiful! A hummingbird was recently trapped in the garage. I freaked out…he wouldn’t fly out the open door! Finally, I took a ladder and wrapped my hand around his little body. When I took him outside, he shot up into the sky like a rocket. I’ll never forget the experience….it was similar to the connection you made with your butterfly. These are special moments when we connect with these magnificent beings. Thanks for sharing!!

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    1. Sheri Fox says:

      It is a special feeling, isn’t it? I just love having the opportunity to help these little creatures. Even though I know they are absolutely terrified I like to believe they know in their hearts they can trust us. Glad you enjoyed my post and took time to comment, I appreciate your visit 🙂

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  4. Robbie says:

    Yes the suspense is killing me!!! Wow..that is so neat + what a great story. I was on the edge of my chair the entire time:-)
    I have seen swallowtails with battered wings survive and I often wondered how they made the trip to my yard.
    “unlikely doesn’t mean impossible”
    LOVE THAT:-)
    I put in another butterfly garden this fall with “host” plants and “nectar” plants for all my butterflies for 2015. This year I had 4 monarchs that have been entertaining me morning tonight in our garden. The swallowtails were earlier in the summer but I know the snow will be flying.+ they will all be gone, but I have set the stage for more next year…I can hardly wait for them next year….I wish there were more butterfly and bee lovers out there + especially more like you!!!

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    1. Sheri Fox says:

      Aww thanks Robbie! Honestly I never knew about bees and butterflies until recently so it goes to show how much a person can learn and help in a short period of time. A few months ago I was saying I didn’t have much interest in growing flowers, but now I realize my butterflies will hang out if I have more flowers so I’m collecting zinnia and coneflower seeds and all types of nectar flowers because I want them to stay in my garden Lol! I do love the ones that have clearly lived a good life and are still out doing their butterfly thing. I’ve watched monarchs whose colors were faded and edges were ragged still diligently laying eggs and nectaring on my few flowers. I think they may have been the most beautiful of all.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Robbie says:

        I feel you deserve the “butterfly queen” award this year! A butterfly crown..oh it would be pretty:-)
        I just love reading your stories about your butterflies…when I am working in the garden, I talk to them ( just like you) as they float by. I’ve noticed they are my ” clock” for they stop by at certain times of the day and it is always the same time!
        I did not see any today so I feel they may of moved on, for it is getting cold here:-(.. long sigh…. I will miss them…..I am hoping next year to have more!!!
        Talk to you later “Queen Butterfly”:-)

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        1. Sheri Fox says:

          I accept! Though I know many other wonderful folks out there doing amazing things to keep those little butters flying who truly put me to shame. Hopefully you will enjoy a few more visits thru fall. Always lovely to hear from you Robbie, enjoy the fall weather and send some my way if you can 😉

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Robbie says:

            You are 2014 “Butterfly Queen”…+ I’ll send you some fall weather:-)

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  5. Kathy Sturr says:

    What a wonderful story. The magic isn’t just in the Swallowtail but in you! You are so kind to be taking care of these creatures. You are also rewarded. I am rooting for that Swallowtail! And all those Monarchs!

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    1. Sheri Fox says:

      Thank you Kathy, that’s really sweet! I really enjoy seeing these little ones grow and transform. It’s truly remarkable and very rewarding. Keep rooting, I’m doing my best but they need all the help they can get 🙂

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  6. This story made my morning! So lovely… Thank you, thank you for sharing!

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    1. Sheri Fox says:

      Thank you, so glad you popped by to say hello and enjoyed my story MB 🙂 btw, your blog is looking great. I love the new(ish) format!

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  7. Nancy says:

    Lovely narration and gorgeous photos too! Thanks for sharing your story. 🙂

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    1. Sheri Fox says:

      So happy you enjoyed it Nancy!

      Like

  8. Too sweet! I love happy endings, especially with little critters involved. Did you give it a name? I bet you will see it again. You have an excellent excuse for taking a month-long sabbatical from Blog.

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    1. Sheri Fox says:

      You know, I didn’t name her. Unless “deformed swallowtail” is a name? haha, I have used up my naming energy on metal animals I think. I appreciate your support re: my sabbatical, though I did miss my bloggy friends a little bit 😉

      Like

  9. Robi from OC SoCal says:

    Oh, my, what a lovely story. How sweet that she stayed to tell you thank you. Maybe you will see her next season. Bless you, Sheri!

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    1. Sheri Fox says:

      Wouldn’t that be nice? I think the swallowtails stick around thru winter so perhaps… certainly I will be looking for her. An Anise came and laid a new batch of eggs last week and I was so hoping it was her. It wasn’t, but it was an equally pretty little girl so I can’t complain. Thanks for visiting Robi, see you on the BE page 😉

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  10. Mandi says:

    What beautiful creatures! Thank you for sharing!

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    1. Sheri Fox says:

      Thanks for visiting Mandi, I’m so happy you enjoyed you my post! They really are stunning creatures. I hope to share many more pics this spring ~ sheri

      Like

  11. A tame butterfly! What a treat!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sheri Fox says:

      I know! She was so sweet! I wish they’d hang out with me all day. They’re very sweet but eventually they all fly away 😦

      Liked by 1 person

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