Butterflies are the brightness and lightness of spring that we often long for in the dark and heavy days of winter. And then one day it IS spring and we see our first butterfly.
They are a gentle reminder that life on earth is all about change.
Butterflies start out as microscopic eggs, then become tiny worm-like larvae, then grow bigger into caterpillars, molting numerous times. Next they create their own cocoons, and, as we all know, then metamorphize from their pupae state into a butterfly. What an earthly marvel this is.
Below are five photos of the Anise Swallowtail butterfly, Papilio zelicaon, in its various stages.
One summer day two years ago as Athena was photographing, this butterfly’s wriggling and arched thorax posture (below) caught her eye. She realized she was witnessing the adult female depositing her eggs. The eggs are microscopic, cannot be seen here.
This is a caterpillar’s early “instar” or stage (below). It is about the size of a staple and is so small and inconspicuous it can easily be mistaken as a bird dropping.
Several times the anise swallowtail caterpillar molts into a bigger skin. You can see how different the caterpillar above is from the caterpillar below — yet they are the same species, just different stages.
After the various instar caterpillar stages, they create their pupa (below) and stay in there, immovable, until the caterpillar tissues break down and rebuild into butterfly tissues.
While each stage is beautiful, the butterfly stage is spectacular.
There are about 17,500 species of butterflies in the world.
Pictured throughout this post are all swallowtail butterfly species. Members of the Papilionidae family, there are about 550 species.
We noticed a butterfly phenomenon one day on the edge of the Belizean rainforest. These Dark Kite-swallowtails were “puddling,” a technique for extracting minerals, primarily salt. Protographium philolaus.
You can see the pronounced forked hindwings, aka as tails, for which the swallowtails are named. This “tail” is reminiscent of the forked tails of swallows.
Swallowtails are some of the largest butterflies on earth. Some species are so large that on first take you think it might be a bird. Both species below have whopping wingspans at around five inches (13 cm).
The Giant Swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes) is the largest butterfly in North America.
I am often buoyed by these dancing kaleidoscopic creatures who start out so immobile and teensy and dark, and as each day turns to the next, they somehow know what to do. Soon they have mysteriously blossomed into delicate splendor.
The earth changes; we change. Thank heaven for butterflies who show us the way.
Written by Jet Eliot.
Photos by Athena Alexander.