Tuesday, May 13, 2008

UPDATE on the Black Swallowtail caterpillars

Well, I am relieved that I didn’t become a butterfly killer. Thanks to my friends in blog land, I am now the proud papa of about 24 caterpillars.
I need some advice-- what is the life span of these caterpillars before they transform into cocoons? (I don’t think there is enough parsley in all Miami to feed these little guys!)

About a month ago, I took this picture in my garden of a Black Swallowtail butterfly. Maybe she is the proud mama.
For more information on Black Swallowtail
I’ll keep you posted on the babies' progress!


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Robin's Nesting Place said...

I'm so glad you didn't kill them. That would have been terrible. I wonder how many people actually do that not knowing what they are.

It looks like some of the larger ones are getting close. If I had to, I'd get some from the grocery store. I would dig a small hole for a cup of water and put a large bunch of parsley from the grocery store right next to the one you have in the garden. With 24 of them you just might have to do that.

Do you have friends or family with small children? I have shared some of my caterpillars with friends so they could watch the process.

Northern Shade said...

wow, you have a black swallowtail factory there. How thrilling it will be to see their whole life cycle in your own backyard. It's interesting to see the caterpillars' single minded devotion to parsley. It's not just a garnish anymore.

Tina said...

I raise swallowtails every summer, so maybe I can help. The caterpillars are definitely eastern black swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) but the butterfly you photographed recently is actually a giant swallowtail. Your butterflies will look similar--just a little smaller and minus the yellow stripe across the back.
These guys eat fennel and dill (though mine never seem to like dill), as well as parsley. Fennel seems easiest for them to maneuver on, as well as eat. It's more delicate than parsley.
If you buy herbs in the grocery store to feed them (or plants from a nursery), be 100% that they are organic. If not, you will have a very sad situation on your hands.
I have heard of people putting caterpillars in the fridge temporarily (in an airtight container) if food is scarce. They will go into a dormant phase because of the cold.
After losing some of my first batch to predators, I raise mine in large pens that keep the spiders, wasps, and birds out, and still give the caterpillars lots of room to breathe (they can easily get diseases from crowding). They don't need a lot of space because they stick like glue to their food plant, and only start wandering when they run out of food or when it's time to pupate. The caterpillars also moult a few times, and do not like to be disturbed while they are in the midst of this. Disturbing them (i.e. touching them or making them move) is not great in general, as they are easily injured and can be made ill from germs on our hands. I always wash my hands before handling them or their food in any way. I feed mine by giving them cuttings rather than the entire plant for a few reasons (the caterpillars are easier to manage and locate, the plant doesn't get demolished as quickly, etc.). I use a bottom-heavy vase with tin foil covering the opening with small holes for the food to come out. (It's important to protect the caterpillars from falling into the water.) Always give them new food and let them go on their own from the old food to the new food, instead of picking them off the old food. This can injure their feet.
If they have plenty of food but are wandering around, this means that it is time for them to pupate. They "march" for the better part of a day and tend to settle down at night. I provide them with smooth sticks for them to secure themselves on. Try to watch this process, including the final shedding of their skin, if you can. It's almost as fascinating as watching them come out of the chrysalis (which always seems to happen before I get up in the morning).
Here is a very helpful website:
If you have any questions, please email me.

Naturegirl said...

Whew!! I rushed right over after seeing your post on GV! I am so relived that you found out these were precious butterflies before picking them off! I will warn you that you had better get more parsley as these guys will eat and eat for about 2 weeks before getting to their next stage where they will be still until the miracle happens! Lucky lady!
P.S. I don't like the idea of putting them in fridge as one of your commentor said...allow Mother Nature to care for these guys!
So many butterfly kisses..sigh!

Cheryl said...

You are my hero Rusty....thanks for helping the butterflies.

tina said...

These are beautiful catepillars and don't do too much damage. I make my son go count them. They can camoflage well!

BouncesOffTrees said...

I have found these on my caterpillar garden after waiting all summer -Black Swallowtails. I have seen some information that says they overwinter as a chrysalis and other info that says they hatch in about two weeks. We live in MD. Should I expect that they will hatch now or not until next spring? We have 9 and I have them in a large screened wooden box frame. I have a large branch with several branches off it. Will they all pupate off one large branch or do I need several cages and branches ?

Anonymous said...

Help, they've come to spray the house & paint and we have chrysalis hanging on the patio. How to I move them?

Wall2WallPhotography said...

I just discovered these caterpillars about 3 weeks ago on my parsley plant. I Googled, and found out what they were. I'm a photographer, so I decided to bring them in and put them in a terarrium to document the process (and subsquently blog about it). Once they inhaled the entire plant, we started feeding them parsley from the grocery store. Our first two butterflies flew away yesterday afternoon. :) These two were the larger two cats that were on the plant when we brought it inside. It seems like the entire process takes 4-5 weeks (give or take) from egg to butterfly. We've got the instars in all stages right now. I've got pics up at butterflybyjulie.blogspot.com if you want to pop by. This is a new thing for me, as well!

alex216 said...

I love it! Very creative!That's actually really cool.


Celestial Elf said...

Great Post :D
thought you might like my machinima film the butterfly's tale~
Bright Blessings
elf ~