Caring is better!

Yesterday's post was titled "Sharing is best", and I talked about sharing my tomato plants with some tobacco hornworm caterpillars. Today it's all about the next level: caring. Last week as I was giving everything a good watering before leaving town for a few days, I noticed that the parsley that I planted specifically for attracting swallowtail butterflies was crawling with caterpillars!

This was great news, but bad timing since I was leaving for the airport very soon. The thing I've learned over the years though is if I can find the caterpillars easily, birds and raccoons can too. I had to take action.


I also know that a small potted parsley is no match for half a dozen black swallowtail caterpillars -- they'll have all of the leaves stripped in a day, then they'll all be in trouble.

That little guy above the big ones is a few moultings behind.

So rather than just leave things to chance and risk not seeing any of these youngsters mature and add to the butterfly population in my yard, I decided to rescue a few of them.

I've done this before, putting them into a large jar and feeding them store-bought parsley for a few days until they pupate.

So I grabbed three of them, dashed to the store and back, and got them set up with some fresh-ish parsley. (I probably should have grabbed more than three, but I was in a hurry.)

Then I got on a plane and called my wife later to tell her that she has to take care of the little munchers for a few days.

When I got back home four days later, two of the three had already pupated, and the third seemed to be really close. The next day, it started its transformation right when I was watching! I already had the camera so took a bunch of shots of the process. The first photo was taken through the plastic jar, but I then removed the stick from the jar for a better look.

This whole process just took a few minutes.

You can see the dark rings forming on the lower part of the body -- this chrysalis eventually turned dark brown like this older one:

There are two color choices for a black swallowtail chrysalis: dark brown or green. In my experience they turn brown when on a stick, and seem to go green otherwise. Here's a green one attached to the side of the jar:

The color difference is really pretty amazing!

So sometime in the next week or so I expect they will start emerging. I'll have to keep an eye on the jar, as a fresh, new butterfly is a beautiful thing indeed. Stay tuned for an update...

(Note: I did see a few smaller caterpillars on the parsley, but no large ones. They've either pupated or got eaten. I'll have to look around for the chrysalises as I've seen them climb out of the pot and pupate under the deck before. They've got pretty good instincts that way.)


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Bom  – (August 30, 2011 at 6:48 AM)  

That is cool! Great macro shots! The rewards one gets from sharing and caring. :-D

Anonymous –   – (August 30, 2011 at 8:05 AM)  

That was a great idea on your part. It reminds me of when my kids had a "butterfly garden" kit that came with caterpillars so you could watch them eat and eat and then turn into Painted Lady Butterflies that they released and watched for days outside. I had forgotten how fast the chrysalis formed!

Gerhard Bock (Succulents and More)  – (August 30, 2011 at 10:46 AM)  

That is amazing! What a wonderful reminder of how incredible the life cycle of a butterfly is.

Jennifer  – (August 30, 2011 at 5:07 PM)  

This post sent me back to my childhood catching swallowtail caterpillars on the dill in my grandma's garden. We put them in ice cream pails with a good supply of dill and sticks. We'd check on them more times than necessary to see if they were changing yet. It was so fascinating to watch them wiggle out of their skin and be a chrysalis underneath. (how does that work??) I even watched a brand new butterfly emerge once - truly amazing. Thanks for bringing back the happy memories!

Lisa  – (August 30, 2011 at 7:30 PM)  

I read the other day that the caterpillar actually "dissolves" inside the chrysalis and the remaining goo reforms into a butterfly... don't know if it's true, but pretty cool no matter how it happens!

Lisa  – (August 30, 2011 at 7:30 PM)  


Debbie Stimac  – (August 31, 2011 at 10:11 PM)  

Wow - thanks for the wonderful pics! I need to go check my parsley carefully tomorrow. I have quite a bit and had no idea that swallowtails like parsley. And I know what to look for in the chrysalis.

Lisa  – (September 4, 2011 at 12:31 AM)  

Very impressive. We've been collecting Anise Swallowtail caterpillars this summer, but I haven't seen a single one pupate. I always seem to be doing something like brushing my teeth when it happens.

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