Caterpillar Carnage

Back in January we had the pleasure of watching checkered swallowtail (Papilio demoleus) caterpillars devour every leaf and twig that was sprouting from a poor tree stump in our yard. These interesting caterpillars start off looking like bird poo for the first few instars (i.e., the first few times they shed their skin). Later, they develop a lovely green color.

It all started with adult butterflies laying eggs on the stump. Butterflies visited daily, even when there was almost no foliage left. Soon the stump was crawling with caterpillars, and within a few more days every leaf had been eaten. Once this happened, the caterpillars resorted to a variety of strategies: eating green twigs that remained, leaving the stump in search of edible plant life, and pupating. When we left the apartment, the stump was home to a few caterpillars wandering over the barren stump and a chrysalis that was half-eaten by lizards.

Subsequently I read that it is not uncommon for caterpillars to strip trees entirely bare, particularly before the dry season, when many trees lose all their leaves anyway to conserve water. Just ask the frangipani, which loses all its leaves to tetrio sphinx caterpillars.

One Response to “Caterpillar Carnage”

  1. New Hatchling | Les Fruits De Mer Says:

    […] few weeks ago I found another tree that was being almost completely defoliated by checkered swallowtail (Papilio demoleus) […]