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Not bird poop, what is it

Gainesville, FL(Zone 9a)

OK, so Im blind. My meyer lemon has been taking such a hit from something. A couple times Ive notice what I thought was probably bird poop or a piece of limb from the oak its under. . To by total shock, Ive got prehistoric looking 'cats'.
Im guessing Im the last to know about these , but if someone could enlighten me, that would be great.

This message was edited Aug 28, 2012 5:17 PM

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Big Pine Key, FL(Zone 11)

These are the caterpillars from a swallowtail butterfly.
I will leave it to others to ID it further

Lutz, FL(Zone 9b)

Those are Giant Swallowtail caterpillars. I'm raising two that were laid on my Meyer Lemon tree. I hope you let them be; they are a beautiful butterfly. By the way, they purposely disguise themselves as bird poo to repel predators.


Here's a pic of one I've got in my critter keeper right now.

Thumbnail by mellielong
Gainesville, FL(Zone 9a)

o dear. And to think I have been rescuing the swallowtails all summer from the patio.

Lee's Summit, MO(Zone 6a)

I have them on my plants, too - they look JUST LIKE bird doodoo!

Central, AL(Zone 7b)

Oh I am so jealous, I wished I've some of those prehistoric looking caterpillars. Just think what beautiful butterflies they're going to be eventually!

Richland, WA(Zone 7b)

Gardenglory- you bring back such wonderful memories to me! I left Gainesville in Nov. 2007, after 5 years there- in Brittany Estates. You came to one of my yard sales before I moved, I think! I raised several of the swallowtails in my lemon tree, and have sopme nice videos of them- I love them! We don't have any butterflies here in WA- I miss them and all my birds SO much! Stay safe during the storm- my sister is in Alachua, and so far so good.

Gainesville, FL(Zone 9a)

Went out to see if I could find them this morning. Found this one. When I would try to move it, it would stick those red 'horns' out. Surprised the heck out of me. They stay out about 15-30 seconds, till you make it mad again.

JP...of coure I remember you. What did you do, put a ruler on a map and try to find the place farthest from gainesville. ;-).

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Richland, WA(Zone 7b)

LOL! My son wanted us to get away from the hurricanes & bugs- he invested in a house and we rent from him. We love it here, but I do miss the year round gardening.

Lutz, FL(Zone 9b)

I call those red things "stinkhorns" but the scientific term is osmeterium. It's another defense against predators. They have a chemical on them that smells bad; it's the same chemical that's in rancid butter. It also helps them look more like a snake sticking out its tongue. All swallowtails have them, but most are orange or yellow. I always thought the Giant Swallowtails were cool because there's were red.


Gainesville, FL(Zone 9a)

Well right now its eating whats left of my meyer lemon tree. I found it over on the camelia where I moved it yesterday, but brought it back over to the lemon this am. Thanks for the info

Lutz, FL(Zone 9b)

When they get big enough and stop eating they will usually wander quite some distance to make a chrysalis. So that might be where the other one went. In the pictures they look pretty full grown.


Clermont, FL(Zone 9a)

So glad Gardenglory started this thread. I discovered 5 on one of my ribbon srubs which is now all gone as it was small to begin with. One almost fell into pond today but husb. saw it and said what the heck is that. I rescued and put back on plant.

Question::: do they sting?

Gainesville, FL(Zone 9a)

Not that I know of.
I was just 'taken' with them. I hope I get some more next year. Mother nature outdid herself with these. Glad they didnt turn into fish food. I was worried sick the birds were going to get them, they really were not hidden from them. They made it tho.

Lutz, FL(Zone 9b)

No, Giant Swallowtails do not sting. Lots of caterpillars do though, so be careful out there!


Clermont, FL(Zone 9a)

Looked at them this morning and looks like 3 are making crysalsis (sp) Sure hope so cause I've never gotton to see all their stages of growth.

Once I found a saddleback catapillar and learned they do sting.

Clermont, FL(Zone 9a)

Don't know whats going on but they have all disappeared. I hope they found someplace else in garden they want to hatch or whatever you call it.

Dahlonega, GA

I'll check my lemons in S Tex next week when I get there . And protect them if I have them

Central, AL(Zone 7b)

Nature is wonderful, these little ones maybe wandered off to a safe place to pupate. I've been watching a different type of caterpillars in the garden this past week. They're now ready to pupate (transform into their final phase; making their chrysalids or 'caccoons' before they finally becoming butterflies. Best of lucks Bonnie, hopefully you'll see these beautiful butterflies soon.

Gainesville, FL(Zone 9a)

Mine crawled away too, thats normal they tell me. Its a good thing. I wonder if butterflies/offspring come back to the same spot each year.

Ocoee (W. Orlando), FL(Zone 9b)

I've seen the swallow tails all over my citrus trees for the past 2 weeks, laying eggs. I didn't get butterflies back in my yard (after our weird freeze) until much later this year. I was excited to see them around. I know my trees will grow new leaves, so I'm not concerned. I'd rather have the butterflies!

Orlando, FL(Zone 9b)

hey everyone. i know you're talking about swallowtails, but the oleander moths decided to lay their eggs on my mandevilla. its a small plant, but it put on a nice flush of growth a little while ago, with twice as much blooms as the last time. well the cats skeletonized a good portion of the leaves. i did remove and kill them. the plant is growing back. so how do you keep the cats off for good?

Gainesville, FL(Zone 9a)

I too have been trying to get them back for a few years after that cold winter. This is the first year Ive seen more than one or two. Still not back to pre deep freeze numbers

Delray Beach, FL(Zone 10a)

Quote from coastalzonepush :
so how do you keep the cats off for good?

I am no expert, but there is no way to keep the plant alive and keep the caterpillars off for good.

Ditch the plant and you might get caterpillars some place else. When you see a caterpillar infestation, ask yourself: "Is this plant there for my enjoyment, or is it a sacrificial plant for the caterpillars?" In my garden, the answer is easy: I planted nothing for caterpillars. The sight of defoliated plants is reminescent of bad Hallowe'en movies, cemetaries and horror stories: three looks I do not care to reproduce around me.

At the first sight of the beginning of an infestation, mix up a batch of BT (Bacillus thurigiensis) and copiously spray the affected plant. BT must be ingested to work, so you must act quickly when you notice the caterpillars. They will keep on eating, get the stomach ache of a lifetime and keel over: Yeah! If it rains within 24 hours of your first application, spray again. The spray must be dripping off the foliage to make sure you got every nook and cranny. It's a never-ending battle, but it does produce some appreciable victories, most of the time.

I am Sylvain, the BT spraying fool of Delray Beach, and I approve of this post.

Keep well, all.

This message was edited Sep 30, 2012 1:03 PM

Orlando, FL(Zone 9b)

gardenglory: i think i misunderstood you, but are you talking about getting more caterpillars?

thanks Sylvain, i will buy BT since i don't have any. but for now i handpicked them and killed them. i think they will provide a bit of nutrients hehe, if they don't feed the ants first.

Gainesville, FL(Zone 9a)

I was actually talking about butterflies, but I guess it had to be a cat. first. Just didnt see them fluttering around for a couple of years. Im glad they are coming back. I didnt want them to go the way of my fireflies and green frogs and lizards.

Clermont, FL(Zone 9a)

This year I have had so many long winged zebras and swallowtails all over the garden. They didn't strip many plants so guess they just flew in. They love the fire spike plant for food source.
Milkweed is long been striped but they come back.
I didn't realize they have such a short lifespan we have to enjoy them while we can.

Okeechobee, FL(Zone 10a)

the Mandavilla also gets new leaves after cats eat it. I just let them have their way. Used to plant parsley at the back of the garden for butterflies to eat.
If a cat has a lot of spikes on it probably stings.

Lafayette, IN(Zone 5a)

Don't kill the caterpillars. Birds will eat them. Did you know that 95% of all birds feed their babies.. caterpillars and other insects? Some birds feed as many as 300 per day to their hungry babies. We need to support wildlife. All plants do not support wildlife equally. Exotic plants, such as those from China, Asia, etc. do not support local diversity. Non native plants support fewer insects and thus support fewer birds which feed on the insects. Nearly all birds depend on insects, especially caterpillars, to feed to their young and must nest in an area where such insects are found.

Plants produce distasteful chemicals in their leaves for defense against insects. Some insects have adapted and specialize in order to eat specific plants. This adaptation takes a long evolutionary exposure to develop this ability to ingest poisonous or distasteful leaves without suffering consequences. Most insects can develop and reproduce only on the plant species with which they share an evolutionary history. The downside of this specialization is that they must have specific plants in order to survive and reproduce. An example of this specialization is Monarch butterflies and milkweed.

So, why should we be concerned about insects? Many mammals depend on insects as a source of food. Nearly all nesting birds feed insects to their babies. Some take as many as 300 caterpillars a day when feeding their young. Predator birds, such as hawks, feed on the smaller birds. Other mammals such as squirrels, possums, frogs also feed on insects. Plants are at the base of the food web….insects feed on them, mammals feed on the insects. Other mammals feed on the insect feeders. We cannot remove insects in the local food web without the food web collapsing.

We need to think about our properties in a different way. We need to consider, when designing and planting our landscapes, how we can add to the ecosystem services to insure the survival of the food web. Plants should not be viewed as just ‘decorations’. Is the solution to just plant native species? Not necessarily because not all native plants support equal amounts of wildlife. Oaks (Quercus) and Prunus species are two of the top plant genera that support butterflies and moths. For further information about plants and the numbers of Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies) they support please see:

Carlisle, PA(Zone 6b)

Up here in Pa. we have black swallowtails and their cats love the leaves of my Aristolochia baetica. (Dutchman's pipe vine) They put out bright yellow stinky horns on their head when disturbed & we had three different hatchings & chrysali this year. I am glad I had the vine because it provided food for them and I do believe in 2013, we will have many many black swallowtails. I also have butterfly bushes for the adults to feed on and wild milkweed in my garden.

Palm Coast, FL

I have a Meyers lemon tree that flowered then we had the late freeze. Lost all the flowers and no fruit. Then I started noticing the "bird poop" and the fact that something was having lunch on the tree. I realized the "poop" was actually alive and thanks to this forum, I know that I have been killing all those potential butterflies. I feel bad now!

Tampa, FL(Zone 9b)

Those are some really cool, prehistoric looking cats. I have not seen any of those, I get hoards of Pipevine Swallowtails on my Dutchman's Pipe.

Carlisle, PA(Zone 6b)

Maybe it was pipevine swallowtail. I only saw two adults this year and only a couple cats.

Archer/Bronson, FL(Zone 8b)

Those are called "Orange Dog". Ugly as they are, they sure make wonderful butterflies.

I have citrus that the graft got frozen and no hope of making any real fruit, but I keep the trees just for the butterfly benefit.


Brooksville, FL(Zone 9a)

This has been very informative, you never would have made me believe that that was really some thing other than, well you get the idea of what I was going to say.

Excellent shots to show them on the defense.

Thanks for sharing this. Learn something new today.


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