Should they stay or should they go

Some little caterpillars are eating the new leaves on my lemon tree. It took me a while to identify them as they are an early instar, quite different from the later form.

They are the larva of  Papilla anactus, the dainty swallowtail. A very attractive butterfly. There was one slowly flying through the garden last week, although I didn’t know its name at the time.

The orange and black stripe and the spikes will disappear as they grow, but these are not the only defences.

When disturbed a reddish-orange coloured osmeterium comes out from behind the head and releases a secretion composed of butyric acid and smelling of rotting oranges. It will have this feature through all larval stages.

The caterpillars will grow to about 35mm in length and as they eat the new leaves of the lemon tree I am a bit worried about their appetite. There are only about 10 of them, but my tree is small. For now, they are too interesting and the butterflies too pretty for them to be banished.


2 responses to “Should they stay or should they go

  1. Tricky question! I’d be wanting to watch their whole life-cycle. But how many leaves can your lemon tree spare? Apparently they only eat the new growth, so the older leaves are safe and can keep photosynthesising to keep the tree alive. Maybe some will be eaten before they are fully grown, and you won’t have a huge number of large caterpillars on the tree?

  2. I find them fascinating.

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