Observation Series
Lime Butterfly and Its Caterpillars (Part 1)

photo photoIt all started when I brought back a pot of Herb-of-grace (Ruta graveolens) plant, which had a very strong pungent scent. I saw this plant at a nursery in late April 2010 and its flowers caught my attention. So, I decided to bring it home to take some pictures for my website. Nothing extraordinary happened until a week later when I saw a caterpillar and something that looked like a butterfly egg under one of the leaflet. Indeed, it was a butterfly egg.

After doing some research, I was quite certain that the caterpillar belong to the Lime Butterfly (Papilio demoleus malayanus). The bird-dropping appearance was a typical feature the caterpillar of this butterfly. I then realised that the Herb-of-grace belonged to the citrus family (Rutaceae). Plants from this family are host plant of the Lime Butterfly. Hence, the egg, caterpillar and the plant all make sense now -- an interesting illustration of how good old nature works.

photoBy 8 May, the caterpillar had grown in size but still having a bird-dropping appearance. The next day, the caterpillar turned into a much prettier light green shade. photo

Unfortunately, this was the last time that I saw it alive. The next morning, it laid motionless on the surface of the balcony with half of the body gone --- likely attacked by an unknown creature.

With the loss of this caterpillar, I still had 2 young caterpillars on the plant. On 15 May, I discovered another egg. At the same time, one of the caterpillars continued to grow while I lost sight of the other one. This time round, I got to see it reaching the pupa stage. The photos below showed its development over time. It was a great pleasure watching its development day-by-day in the comfort of my home, though I was really keen to see the butterfly.

photo photo photo photo

photo photoThe last photo on the pupa stage was taken on 30 May. On 5 June, while I was surveying my plants at the balcony from a distance, I saw a butterfly that looked like a Lime Butterfly fluttering around the plants. The first thought that came to my mind was whether the butterfly was from the pupa on the Herb-of-grace plant.

I snapped a couple of photos from a distance as I did not want to scare it away. After a few minutes, it decided to settle on the climber, Butterfly Pea (Clitoria ternatea). This allowed me to take quite few shots.

After it was gone, I checked the pupa and it was still intact. The butterfly was actually finding a place to lay egg --- realised this when I run through the photos taken; a photo showed the typing egg-laying posture. Strangely, the egg was laid on the underside of a window grill instead of the Herb-of-grace plant nearby.

Below were some of the photos taken during the exciting moment. From left to right: (1) behind the Herb-of-grace plant; (2) fluttering in the air; (3) laying egg on window grill; (4) egg found on window grill; (5) resting on the Butterfly Pea vine after laying the egg.

photo photo photo photo photo

The magic moment arrived in the morning on 7 June. In the evening of 6 June, the shadow of the butterfly could be seen vaguely in the pupa. While watering my plant on 7 June at around 6:15am, the pupa was almost transparent. I know the awaited miracle was going to happen today but I had to go to work. When I was about to leave my place at about 6:45am, the butterfly had emerged. Though I missed 30 minutes of transformation in between, at least I got to see the end product.

photo photo photo

The attrition rate of the eggs and caterpillars was rather high. With more than 10 eggs seen so far, only one made it. The rest of them were either eaten by some creatures or wash away during heavy storms. It will probably take a while before I can witness another round of transformation.

photo photoOn 25 September 2010, I had another promising candidate. This caterpillar seems to have a slightly different body pattern than the one that hatched previously. The picture of the early instar caterpillar was taken on 15 September 2010. There were 4 of them to start with but it was down to one soon. I did not have any idea of where the other 3 went to. They simply vanished from the plant. Unfortunately, 3 days later, the last disappeared in the night. Life as a caterpillar was certainly a tough ride.

On 2 October 2010, I found a mysterious pupa hanging under the leaf of my Daisy (Gerbera jamesonii) plant. | See Part 2 of the story. |

Last updated: 16 October 2010

To use any of the image(s), please read the conditions carefully. To correct any error, please contact me.