Tag Archives: spicebush swallowtail

Spice is nice: Nature Notes from the Sanctuary

Wow, it’s been a hot, dry summer at the Museum of American Bird Art, yet, life keeps on living in our streams, pine forests, and meadows. Animals explore our meadow, monarch caterpillars chomp on milkweed growing in our fields, and fishers saunter through our pine forest. Here are a few highlights from the past couple of months.

A coyote drops by for a quick visit



Every morning, hundreds of bumblebees and native bees buzz through our recently planted native plant meadow collecting pollen and nectar from partridge pea, great blue lobelia, sunflowers, and much more. Last year, no bees buzzed or goldfinches ate seeds because the meadow was a mowed lawn. _SMK5573In April 2016, we removed all the lawn in front of our bird and photography blind and planted approximately 26,000 native plant seeds and 72 native plant seedlings. The new meadow should also greatly improve the photography opportunities at our blind because of  increased cover for birds visiting the feeders. For example, this past week, we had over 50 migratory sparrows, including Chipping Sparrows and Song Sparrows, feeding on the abundant seeds in the newly planted meadow.

Check out a few pictures of our meadow in the making, with help from our homeschool classes too!

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Monarch Caterpillars

If you walked through our meadow on a daily basis, it would seem that the monarch population was hurting in Canton because I only saw two monarch butterflies this entire summer. However, we’ve had lots of sneaky monarch butterflies because we’ve had lots of caterpillars chowing down on the milkweed in the sanctuary. Check out these pictures.

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Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly

Spicebush Swallowtail

Spicebush Swallowtail


Not a snake, but a spicebush swallowtail caterpillar

The Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly is a fascinating creature that belongs to an extremely diverse group of butterflies, including the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail and Black Swallowtail you may see flying around or munching on the parsley in your garden (black swallowtail caterpillar).

Sam Jaffe's photograph of a Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Top), Black Swallowtail (Middle), and Spicebush Swallowtail (Bottom). Learn more at: http://www.thecaterpillarlab.org/single-post/2015/12/01/SPICEBUSH-SWALLOWTAIL

Sam Jaffe’s photograph of a Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Top), Black Swallowtail (Middle), and Spicebush Swallowtail (Bottom). Learn more at: http://www.thecaterpillarlab.org/single-post/2015/12/01/SPICEBUSH-SWALLOWTAIL

As an adult, the spicebush swallowtail will drink nectar from many plant species. Caterpillars eat leaves from plants in the Laural family (Lauraceae). The two species in Massachusetts are it’s namesake Spicebush (Lindera benzoin), which typically grows in wet habitats, and Sassafras (Sassafras albidum). 


This spring and summer we were extremely fortunate to have many Spicebush Swallowtails gliding through the dappled light of our pine forests. During our summer camp, many kids collected and cared for spicebush caterpillars and watched their development from egg to butterfly.

Spicebush caterpillars have amazing adaptations to scare or deter predators. They secrete chemicals from their horns (osmeteria) that have been reported to deter ants (Eisner and Meinwald 1965).  Spicebush caterpillars also mimic bird droppings as early instar caterpillars and mimic snakes and tree frogs during their late instars to deter bird predation. Enjoy a few photos from this past summer.

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To learn more about this amazing species, you can find a species description from Mass Audubon and a fantastic indepth article by the University of Florida’s entomology department. 

Beautiful Wildflowers

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Amazing Insects

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Eisner T, Meinwald YC. 1965. Defensive secretion of a caterpillar (Papilio). Science 150: 1733-1735


Ready to be inspired and amazed? The Caterpillar Lab is coming to the Wild at Art Summer Camp

The Caterpillar Lab is Coming!!!

We have exciting news for this summer’s Wild at Art Camp…The award winning, innovative, engaging, and awe-inspiring Caterpillar Lab is coming to camp during the Natural Connections 1  (July 6 to 10) and Taking Flight (July 13 to 17) week.

By incorporating a visit from the Caterpillar Lab with the Wild at Art Camp experience, campers will have a strong foundation to experience powerful moments of discovery throughout the year in their own backyards and daily life. In addition, this experience should infuse them with the confidence to create and express themselves more confidently through art. Only a few spots remain, so sign up today so that camper in your life won’t miss out!

During each week, the Caterpillar Lab will allow campers to get up close and personal with many different species of native caterpillars and learn about their adaptations.

Mother and daughter at a live caterpillar show seeing a cecropia moth caterpillar for the first time.  © Samuel Jaffe

Mother and daughter at a live caterpillar show seeing a cecropia moth caterpillar for the first time. © Samuel Jaffe.


Campers will:

  • Learn more about many fascinating species of native caterpillars
  • Discover native caterpillars at the wildlife sanctuary and at home
  • Create art inspired by these amazing natural creatures
  • Become excited about discovering their natural world and sharing it with others


Week 1: Natural Connections (July 6 to July 10)

For the first week, campers will learn about how these caterpillars interact with plants, like how the monarch caterpillar is able to consume milkweed and turn the toxins in the milkweed into a defensive weapon.

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Week 2: Taking Flight (July 13 to July 17)

For the second week, campers will learn how caterpillars are adapted against birds. Because, unless they are “told otherwise”, birds view caterpillars as big, juicy snacks. For example, the caterpillars of the spicebush swallowtail butterfly look likes snakes, which is an adaptation that scares birds and saves the caterpillar from being lunch. We have lots of spicebush in the wildlife sanctuary and are optimistic that campers will be able to find these caterpillars on the property.

Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar

Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar. Creative Commons License.

Do you know a creative kid or a nature detective…then open up a world of exploration, imagination, and investigation this summer by signing them up for the Wild at Art Summer Camp in Canton.