Zebra Swallowtail Caterpillar (Eurytides marcellus) | Wildlife Wednesday
Our trip to east Texas last weekend had us visiting the Watson Rare Native Plant Preserve and two Big Thicket National Preserve units, the Turkey Creek Unit (and the Pitcher Plant Trail) and the Hickory Creek Savannah Unit (and the Sundew Trail).
I can’t recall where we saw the first zebra swallowtail adult fly by but we did end up seeing several along the Sundew Trail. One of them was flying slow and low to the ground, which at first had us thinking it was searching for nectar plants. But it avoided several flowering plants and I finally decided it was looking for pawpaws to lay eggs! From then Chris started looking for pawpaws and evidence of caterpillars. We were nearly done with the hike when he stopped us and said he had found one!
I got out my macro lens and started being a naturalist paparazzi and had some fun chatting with this sweet being. They were none too pleased with me when I tried to shoo a few harvestmen out of the picture and showed me their osmeteria, the two orange horn-like appendages on their head. Chris and Forest continued meandering down the trail and I proceeded to take out my camera and take a lot of photos, switching lenses for the macro lens to get up close.
The only other zebra swallowtail I have seen in Texas (or recall seeing) was one that darted around us at Huntsville State Park last spring. That state park and where we are in NW Houston is the far western end of their range. They are not common at all around here. But dig a bit further into east Texas and they start appearing a lot more, which is a lovely sight to see! I was tinkering around on iNaturalist to log my sighting and noticed someone had logged one in central Texas near Caldwell. That’s between College Station and Austin! I had to comment to make sure it was legit and even ran an reverse Google Image Search (I once found a fake entry in Houston for a butterfly that exists in Britain by using that technique) and nothing else showed up. The person who logged the entry mentioned they thought it was strange but there was apparently a stray zebra swallowtail well out of its range over there. It happens, of course, but still a bit odd! That said, if one appeared in my yard I’d do a happy dance! I’m still waiting for the occasional sighting of a zebra longwing to happen in my yard. They are transient in the Houston area, more commonly seen in Austin and San Antonio and of course closer to south Texas. But they are known to show up in Houston from time to time. I’ve got the passiflora to make them happy!
Definitely a great lifer caterpillar to add to the list!
Do all butterflies have those osmeteria? I’ve never seen them before, or just haven’t noticed them in photos. I think I came across a first instar of a monarch caterpillar last weekend. I didn’t notice it until I got home and was looking at photos. It’s so tiny, and seemed to be busy munching on a bud. It sure does look like this one.
I am so glad this little guy let me find him. Next to find is the zebra longwing!