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Posts tagged ‘black swallowtail caterpillar’

Pupating Black Swallowtail Cat

It has been fun watching the cats devour the fennel plants.  After they reach a certain size, the caterpillars leave the fennel and make their way to a suitable place to begin pupating.  Because I’m new to butterfly gardening, I’ve never seen a black swallowtail chrysalis before – at least, so I thought.   I went out to the garden one morning before work several weeks ago, and, while checking out the herb garden, I happened to notice a black swallowtail cat on the culinary sage.  I looked a little closer and saw that it had curled it’s head downwards and attached itself to the stem by two web-like strings.   I watched it pupate for about a week without anything exciting to report, then one day my wife said that it looked different.  She moved it a little, only to discover that it was empty!  Too bad we missed it, but we were delighted in being an integral part of that caterpillar’s metamorphosis into a beautiful and beneficial butterfly!

Caterpillar beginning to pupate

Caterpillar twenty-four hours later

If you’ve followed this blog for long, you may remember that I posted pictures of a moth/butterfly chrysalis a few months ago, which we discovered on the spearmint.  It looked just like this, so I HAD seen a black swallowtail chrysalis before, I just didn’t know it!

Butterfly chrysalis, May 1st, on spearmint


Little Striped Cats

Meredith over at Great Stems left a comment the other day about how she never tires of taking pictures of her black swallowtail cats, and I agree with her.   They don’t fly away like adults do, so I have plenty of time to snap pics.   My wife has now gotten in on the action, taking these great pictures below.

As you can see, they are getting fat and plump on the fennel, which, remarkably, has only grown more aggressively.  I counted a total of thirteen cats on the four fennel plants on Sunday.  Monday morning the largest of them had gone, I assume to get ready for its great transformation.  Last night, with the insane wind we had, one of the big cats got blown off the fennel and a bird swooped down to have dinner.  My wife saw it and ran outside to chase the bird, but it was too late.  Even with its defense mechanism and foul odor, it couldn’t avoid being a snack.  We did our best to shield the rest of them for awhile as the wind finally subsided.  In the meantime, though, I was also busy tying sunflowers to the fence and propping up my bean bushes with bricks to keep them from blowing over!   The wind has been really wild this spring!

Check out this short HD video I captured of the caterpillar munching down on the fennel.  This is not sped up in anyway, they really eat that fast!  🙂

I also found these fuzzy cats chewing up my marjoram.  Not quite sure what they are, but I moved them to over the neighbor’s fence.  If they can make it back here without getting eaten by the birds, then I guess they passed Herbert Spencer’s test!

Wordless Wednesday: Life Happens

Next Wave of Blooms in the Wildflower Bed

This is the first year I have planted wildflowers, so it has been exciting as we have watched these unknown plants grow and finally produce an identifiable flower!  A couple of weeks ago, I posted a picture of a flower bud that was forming in the flower bed.  I thought that it was a coneflower, but as it turns out, it is not a coneflower.  It’s a Mexican Hat!  Que es emocionante!   Almost in time for Cinco de Mayo!  Enter the dancing hats:

I have dozens more hats preparing to bloom in the bed.  The cornflowers are still going strong, but the poppies are almost done.  Most of them have died, stalk and all by now.  The primrose has quieted down as well.  I’m really curious as to what the next wave of flowers will be.  Right now, there are many very tall plants that have a dozen or so buds on the top of each.  The fence around our property is five feet.  Some of them have now exceeded that height, which is just astonishing to me.  I am 5′ 10″ and I’m almost looking at them eye-to-bud.  🙂

Meanwhile, on the other side of the yard, there are new Black Swallowtail eggs on the fennel.  AND, there are at least a handful of little caterpillars!  If you weren’t looking for them, you wouldn’t see them.  They kind of look like little turds.  🙂  The smallest are about the size of a piece of long-grain rice.

Beneficial Insect Files: Black Swallowtail Caterpillar

Beneficial Insect Spotlight:  The Black Swallowtail Caterpillar

The Black Swallowtail caterpillar is also known as the Eastern Black Swallowtail, the American Swallowtail, Parsnip Swallowtail, or simply, Parsley worm.  The Black Swallowtail caterpillar is a common butterfly larvae throughout most of the United States.  This species lives and dines on members of the parsley family (including carrots, dill, fennel and parsnips), which is how it got its nickname, Parsley worm.   If you want to attract the black Swallowtail, be sure to plant many of these for them to enjoy.

Adult Black Swallowtail butterflies lay small, yellowish eggs one at a time on the underside of leaves.  Within a few days, tiny caterpillars begin to emerge from their eggs, first eating the egg shell and then turning their ferocious appetites to the host plant.  The Black Swallowtail caterpillar moves through at least four instars, the technical name for stages of development before entering into the pupa stage and transforming into butterflies.  During each instar, the caterpillar molts its exoskeleton, which begins to change its appearance.  Newly hatched B.S. caterpillars, also called first instars, are small black, fuzzy looking worms with dark spikey hairs and a lighter band near the middle.  As they progress from first to fourth instar, the caterpillar loses the black hairs and forms the unmistakable banded pattern of the mature caterpillar.  In the last instar, no hairs are visible at all.  After reaching the final stage of its development, the caterpillar attaches itself to a branch or other structure by spinning silk and eventually builds a chrysalis in which the transformation into the pupa begins.  Within just a couple of weeks, the pupa undergoes a metamorphosis and emerges as an adult butterfly.  In our region, Black Swallowtail are able to reproduce at least three generations throughout the year.

Swallowtail caterpillars are beneficial insects; however, if you are a parsley farmer, you may have a different opinion!  Caterpillars forage heavily on their host plants, but they also serve as a food source for songbirds and other wildlife.  After their metamorphosis into butterflies, they become pollinators, which is important because one-third of the world’s cultivated crops depend upon the work of pollinators like butterfly and bees.  In addition, butterflies are beneficial to humans for their aesthetic qualities.  Many species are brightly colored and so capture the attention and marvel of many people.  Just watching the whimsical flight of butterflies is enough to lift the spirits!

I came home after work yesterday to discover this big guy munching down on the parsley.  I knew immediately what he was and ran inside to grab the camera.  Judging from his appearance, I’d say he is in his third or fourth instar and almost ready to create a chrysalis.

After trying to get a good angle on him, I accidentally bumped him.  I was shocked to see two large orange antenna poke out of his head, much in the same way as a slug’s eyes pop out.  I thought this was his way of checking me out, until I noticed a very foul odor.  I’ve smelled that smell before when I was a kid playing with certain kinds of beetles.  Smelling my hand, I realized that he had just sprayed me with some sort of chemical.  After repeated failed attempts to wash the smell off, I hopped online to discover an interesting fact about Swallowtails.

Swallowtails possess a defense mechanism whereby a Y-shaped organ called the osmeterium inverts itself as a bright warning to prey.  The osmeterium also produces a chemical secretion containing terpenes, which are foul-smelling and serve as a further deterrant.  I just so happened to set off his defenses!

What’s even more weird is that when I woke up this morning, I saw a black worm crawling on a used washcloth on the floor in the utility room.  I’m not one to kill bugs, so I picked it up for a better view.  Under closer inspection, I realized it was another  (albeit tiny!) Black Swallowtail caterpillar in its first instar!  As I picked it up from the rear, it threw its head back towards my fingers and it’s osmeterium popped out to warn me.  Luckily, the younger caterpillars don’t smell as bad.  I took him outside and put him on the parsley, which I hope he appreciated!  Now, HOW did he get in the house?  Riding on someone’s pant leg?  I found him again (I think!) in the evening when I returned from work, so I snapped a pic.

In case you need convincing of the benefits of the black swallowtail caterpillar, take a look at how magnificent an adult is!