Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly
This odd little fellow is the caterpillar of the very common and beautiful eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly. The caterpillars of this species go through five instar stages, beginning light green, then turning darker with each stage. The next stage will be the chrysalis, or pupa, from which the adult butterfly will emerge. An HGTV.com reader who lives in West Virginia found this caterpillar in a barn in early spring.
"Some butterfly caterpillars overwinter in a partially grown state and then pupate in the spring. This may have been the case with this one," says Larry Campbell, extension agent for Harrison County in West Virginia.
The caterpillar is designed to live in a world with lots of predators: Its "eyes" are fake, simply large spots that make the caterpillar look larger than it really is. It munches on leaves, and when it's not eating, it hides under a little silken umbrella that it spins for cover.
The eastern tiger swallowtail caterpillar begins its life as an egg laid on a host plant, most commonly deciduous trees and shrubs like lilac, willow, birch, ash, wild cherry, basswood, and tulip poplars. The butterflies flock to the nectar of tubular flowers such as those of bee balm, lilac, phlox, mint, milkweed and butterfly bush.