Common Lime Swallowtail Butterfly (Papilio demoleus)

Meet “Limey”, the lime-eating caterpillar:

Common Lime Swallowtail Butterfly Papilio demoleus 5th instar

We have a kaffir lime tree in a large clay pot in our carport. Kaffir lime is a wonderful ingredient in Southeast Asian cooking, particularly Thai dishes. We’ve used kaffir lime leaf in many recipes, including Stir fried Pork with Long Beans, Thai Green Curry, and Wild Salmon Cakes with Kaffir Lime and Ginger.

One day, I spotted what at first appeared to be some bird poop on one of the leaves. It actually turned out to be a caterpillar, as evidenced by the obvious circular-shaped cuts showing up on some of the leaves that this “poop” was on. Every morning, I took a look at the plant to observe the progress of the “poop”.


Pesky, but not a Pest

Some quick Googling reveals that this caterpillar is the larva of the Common Lime Swallowtail Butterfly, Papilio demoleus. It’s found all over Asia and the tropics and is considered a pest that, according to the University of Florida, can defoliate entire nursery groves of citrus.

As the caterpillar got older and bigger, it lost its resemblance to poop and started looking like a real green caterpillar. It was chewing up a leaf or two a day.  Even though our kaffir lime tree wasn’t that big, I didn’t think this caterpillar would be able to defoliate the entire plant, so I let it live.

Common Lime Swallowtail Butterfly Papilio demoleus 5th instar on kaffir lime leaf

Done Eating

One day, it seemed to lose interest in eating and started heading down the main branch from the leaf fringes where it had been grazing.

Common Lime Swallowtail Butterfly Papilio demoleus on kaffir lime branch

The next morning, we found it on the ground, just outside the pot. We put it back on the plant. When we came home in the afternoon, we found it setting up on the side of the pot.

Common Lime Swallowtail Butterfly Papilio demoleus preparing to pupate

A day later, and the caterpillar has fully pupated.

Common Lime Swallowtail Butterfly Papilio demoleus pupa day 1

This is how it looked this morning:

Common Lime Swallowtail Butterfly Papilio demoleus pupa day 3

I expect it to take a couple of weeks to complete the cycle and become a butterfly.  I’ll keep taking pictures every day but I am a little concerned that we won’t be around the day it finally does emerge.  Hopefully the timing will be right and we can share with you that happy day when it does take wing.

Aloha, Nate

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5 Comments Post a Comment
  1. Ellen says:

    Fingers crossed…I’d love to see a photo of the butterfly!

  2. Mokihana says:

    I wonder if it will look like our Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly here. They are just gorgeous. I find it really interesting that it decided to undergo the transformation on a clay pot instead of a leaf or branch.

  3. Emmy says:

    Wow! A science lesson in your own backyard.

  4. This is such a cool series. I bet the kids love watching this unfolds. Are you going to camp out next week every day, 24/7 to make sure you catch the “moment” when the butterfly comes out? ;-)

  5. Theresa says:

    My kaffir lime plant keeps getting “attacked” by butterflies. After several attacks and many caterpillars later, my plant is almost bald, despite the fact that we painstakingly remove every caterpillar we see! Glad that your plant is still looking very healthy. :)

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My Photo Annie is mistress of the kitchen while Nate is the master of the grill and smoker. We cook the homestyle Asian and Hawaiian foods of our younger days while also exploring the wider worlds of Western foods.

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