for the immortal soul.
The giant swallowtails that we enjoy, though, comprise just one short page of a complex story. Like other butterflies, giant swallowtails undergo complete, four-stage metamorphosis. The adult females, soon after mating, lay yellow or light green eggs on host plant leaves and twigs. Hatching after a few days, the larvae
or caterpillars remain on the host trees, gobbling up tender new shoots and leaves. (Colloquially called "orange dogs," larvae may become major pests in citrus groves.)
To escape detection, the larvae are camouflaged to resemble bird dung-mottled brown with a cream-colored saddle on top. They also posses an orange-colored
osmeterium, an eversible forked organ just behind the head which emits a powerful, repugnant odor when extruded, as when disturbed by a predator.
After a series of molts, larvae enter the pupa or chrysalis stage of development, attaching themselves to a vertical surface while building a hard outer case; like
the harness of a telephone lineman, a silk strand or girdle secures the middle of the body. In a process called histolysis, most of the larval organs dissolve, and the resulting fluid reforms ("histogenesis") around small primordia. During this stage, the enormous digestive tract--so essential to the life of the larva--is drastically reduced, while the eyes, brain, sex organs, and flight muscles are greatly enhanced. After completing these transformations, the adult emerges, inflates its wings with hydraulic fluid, and flies off to find a mate and repeat the cycle. Three of these cycles will be completed during the long Alabama summers.
From a biological standpoint, metamorphosis allows for the larva and adult to live completely different, noncompeting lives. A homely and awkward caterpillar,
dominated by its need to feed, is transformed into a beautiful and graceful adult, dominated by its need to mate; an "orange dog," restricted to a single host tree,
becomes a giant swallowtail, free to float the breeze.
But in symbolic terms, the process means much more. The wormlike caterpillar enters a deathlike pupal state, only to be resurrected as an ethereal-winged
adult floating skyward. Is it any wonder that the ancient Greeks used the same word, psyche, for both the butterfly and the soul?