The spicebush swallowtail caterpillar is an adorable caterpillar. It has huge false eyes that make it look almost cartoonish. They are nocturnal feeders and spin webs
to hide in during the day. This helps to keep them safe from predators. I have been lucky enough to see 2 of these during the day. Both times they had already turned from green to yellow which indicates that they were getting ready to transform into a chrysalis or pupa. A butterfly chrysalis is referred to by most people as a cocoon.
This first encounter I had with the spicebush swallowtail caterpillar was a long time ago in the age of film cameras, so I wasn’t able to get as many pictures as I would have liked. I thought the poor little thing was having convulsions and was going to die, but to my surprise, it was starting to change. It was an incredible site to see. I hope that I have the pleasure of watching one of these creatures turn themselves into a chrysalis again, but that was probably a once in a lifetime experience.
The second time that I was able to witness a spicebush swallowtail caterpillar was just a few days ago. It was scurrying down our woodpile and I was so excited. I snapped a bunch of pictures as it made its way across the downed leaves. It started to climb up a leaf that just went up some concrete blocks, so I thought that I would move it over so that it could make its way into the woods. I didn’t even think about scaring it. It immediately went into its defensive posture. I felt horrible and walked away for a little bit after taking a couple pictures. I watched it from afar and after it started moving I went in for a few more shots.
When the spicebush caterpillar larva goes into its defensive posture it rears up the front part of its body and pulls its head in. This mimics a snake and is used to scare off predators. It also has an osmeterium that looks like a forked tongue. When the caterpillar is threatened, it will extend the “tongue” to repel any attackers. I did not get to see the osmeterium in action.
Once the spicebush swallowtail caterpillar goes through complete metamorphosis it emerges into a beautiful black, blue, green and orange butterfly. The spicebush swallowtail butterfly is quite large and can have a wingspan from 3.83”-4.78”. We are lucky to have quite a few of these fluttering around since one of the larval host plants is sassafras and we have a lot of it surrounding our home.