Black Witch Metamorphosis
Location: San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
September 26, 2010 11:28 am
Here are a couple images of a Black Witch moth from cocoon to maturity. Unfortunately, I can’t find an image of the caterpillar that I took to round out the whole cycle. As usual, when we were at our home in Mexico in August there were several caterpillars crawling around in anticipation of cocooning. They were fat, bird dropping mimics and about 2 inches long. You can’t tell too well from my photo, but the cats girdled themselves with a silk ”hanger” much like swallowtails, so that’s what I thought they were. Couldn’t find them online, so I asked our renters to take a picture for me after we left (August 14) so I might be able to identify the outcome. Wow, was I surprised when they sent me this photo today! Clearly a Black Witch male. The time from cocoon to emergence was about 5 – 6 weeks — early August to Sept 15.
I thought you might enjoy adding this to your files on the Black Witch. My apologies for the less than stellar images, but at least it gives you an idea.
We are positively thrilled to post your partial documentation of a Black Witch metamorphosis. The information on the pupa is very interesting, though it is difficult in the photo to make out the silken girdle you mention. Should you happen upon the photo of the caterpillar, please send it at a later date.
UPDATE: Black Witch Metamorphosis Update
Location: San Miguel de Allende`
September 26, 2010 12:37 pm
I sent an earlier email on this but am now questioning the veracity of the Black Witch coming from the cocoon I photographed in early August. I did some research and have found that Black Witches pupate rather than form a cocoon. So I doubt that the Black Witch in the photo my renter sent me came from the cocoon I photographed. I fear the cocoon remains a mystery.
Thanks for the additional information Stephanie. The photo does show a bare pupa, not a cocoon, so you may still be correct. We will try to locate a photo of a Black Witch Pupa to confirm.
When I searched for images of the Black Witch lifecycle to confirm what I’d found and see other images, the pupa looked like something you find under ground. But that was only one site. On another, it talked about a cocoon. So I’ll be interested in what you or other readers have to say. Certainlly we have the right type of vegetation for Black Witch caterpillars which feed on mesquite, for one thing.
In attempting to research this posting more thoroughly, we found a Texas Entomology website with a page on the Life Cycle Photographs and rearing Note on the Black Witch, and it contains an image of a bare pupa. Sadly, the quality of the image you sent of the alleged Black Witch Pupa is of low quality, but it looks more to us like a larva than a pupa, but a larva that is getting ready to pupate, meaning that the caterpillar skin has still not been shed. The markings do somewhat resemble the markings of the Black Witch Caterpillars on the web page with the pupa image. Sadly, there is no information on where the moth pupates. The Texas Entomology website also has a web page entitled The Black Witch: Its Natural and Cultural History, but again, no description of the pupa, nor have we had any luck locating an image of a Black Witch Pupa. This posting may remain a mystery, however we are going to continue to report your observations that the caterpillar of the Black Witch may construct a silken girdle for the pupa.
Final Conclusion: Not Black Witch Pupa
September 27, 2010
I believe I’ve solved the mystery and can now say that it’s NOT a Black Witch. After I began to have doubts I remembered that the pic I sent you of the “cocoon” was, as you say, still in the transformation into a pupa. I cannot find any pictures that I thought I took of the final stage but they looked like a stick and you could definitely see the silk girdle. I’ve done some more searching based on what I remember the cat and pupa looking like and found the site Interactive Listing of Mexican Butterflies (Mariposas Mexicanas) website. Based on the appearance of the cat being a bird dropping mimic and its eventual metamorphosis into a pupa that looked twiglike and was held with a girdle, I believed it must be a swallowtail of some sort and so I began looking through all the species for a picture of the cat and chrysalis. I now believe it is a Pink-spotted Swallowtail, papilio rogeri pharnaces. Here is the exact link: http://www.mariposasmexicanas.com/papilio_heraclides_rogeri_pharnaces.htm. If you scroll to the bottom you will see both the caterpillar and the pupa, both exactly as I remember, the cat resemblling bird droppings but also slightly snakelike and the pupa looking like a twig. Thanks for your extra research on this. My further reading tells me that the larva feed on citrus and we have a young lime tree in our yard. I only wish I could see the butterfly!
Thanks for keeping us informed Stephanie.