Adventures in Raising Butterflies

Swallowtail on Yarrow

My work is heavily inspired by nature, so it’s probably no surprise that I spend the warmer months tending to my herb and flower gardens. I get lots of “visitors” to my gardens, some welcome (like the hummingbird, the praying mantises that lay eggs every year, assorted butterflies, and honey bees), and some not quite as welcome (the beetles that eat my plants, or the skunks that dig up my yard and gardens looking for bugs, and destroy my sunflowers for example).

This year I’ve been especially lucky with good visitors, and it all started in late June when an Eastern Black Swallowtail laid a few of her eggs on my dill plant. I didn’t know what these strange little caterpillars were at first when they hatched, so I asked my sister, a former aspiring entomologist and avid butterfly raiser. When she told me that she was sure they were Eastern Black Swallowtails since they were on dill, I took the three surviving caterpillars inside where I could keep them safe in an enclosure and supply them with lots of fresh organic dill from my garden.

Three Eastern Black SwallowtailCaterpillars

They thrived, and each day they were bigger and hungrier. It was a lot of fun to watch them change not only in size, but in appearance. Eastern Black Swallowtail caterpillars start out a darkish brown with a white saddle-like pattern and orange spots on them, but after a few days as they mature and shed their skins they start to get their black, yellow, green, and white stripes.

Two Chrysalises Hatched Chrysalis

When they had finally eaten their fill and finished growing, they started wandering the enclosure to find a suitable spot to form their chrysalises, so I supplied them with some sticks. In less than a week I woke up to find the first one had emerged, and she was a beautiful female. I gently took her outside to perch on my yarrow until she was ready to fly off, and luckily got to take some pictures of her before she left. The other two were both males, and seemed to be in more of a rush to explore the world, so I never got any shots of them.

Eastern Black Swallowtail Female

Last week the lovely lady (well, I assumed it was her) came back to my garden, and left around 30 tiny eggs all over my dill plants. Super excited, I carefully cut the stems containing eggs and brought them inside where I put each one in a floral water pick to keep the dill alive until they hatched. I reassured myself that they probably wouldn’t all hatch, and I’d probably end up having to care for less than half of them, at the very most.

Caterpillar Munching on Dill


Well, one week later, and I have 23 caterpillars so far! They didn’t all hatch at the same time, so they’re all at different stages and I won’t wake up to over 20 caterpillars all at once, but I’m pretty sure my dill will be completely wiped out by the time they’re done. Anybody have some extra organic dill you want to part with? šŸ˜‰

Grasping Caterpillar


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