Category Archives: Butterflies

Adventures in Raising Butterflies: Emergence

Male Eastern Black Swallowtail Butterfly On Zinnia

We ended up with twenty chrysalises total out of this last batch of eggs laid on the dill in my herb garden, and over the past week we’ve been able to witness the first flights of eight of the freshly emerged Eastern Black Swallowtail butterflies. Since they didn’t all form their chrysalises at the same time their emergence has been staggered, and every morning I eagerly to check to see if there are any new butterflies in the enclosure.

Easter Black Swallowtail Female On Zinnia

I’m not sure if there’s any significance behind this, but there have definitely been more male butterflies than females in both of our groups this summer. The females tend to be a bit larger, and the inside of their wings have larger blue areas near the bottom, while the males have less blue and more yellow areas near the edges. The outside/underside of their wings are the same for both males and females, with beautiful red-orange, yellow, and blue markings. The two males in the pictures below look almost the same at first glance, but if you look closely you can see some slight differences in the markings on their wings.

Black Swallowtail Male On Zinnia    Black Swallowtail Male 2 On Zinnia

Even thought my sister raised butterflies through many summers when we were growing up I was never this closely involved in the entire process, so this has been a very fun learning experience for me. When I bring a newly emerged butterfly outside, I like to stay with each one until it flies away, and that gives me the opportunity to really study them and get some photographs.

Black Swallowtail Male On Sunflower StemThe butterflies that have most recently emerged spend more time hanging around before they fly away, pumping up their wings as they unfold and strengthen. Some of them will even crawl all over me, giving me the enjoyment of spending some close time with a creature that is normally more elusive. I’ve spent a lot of time taking care of these creatures, and it’s so gratifying to watch each one fly off!

Black Swallowtail Male From Above On Zinnia

 

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Adventures in Raising Butterflies: Eastern Black Swallowtail Caterpillar Updates

Large Eastern Black Swallowtail Caterpillar

In the past 12 days I’ve watched 21 caterpillars grow while the dill in my garden has slowly gotten eaten up. Out of the 23 caterpillars that hatched from the second batch of eggs an Eastern Black Swallowtail butterfly laid on the dill in my herb garden, only two died so far (the runts that never seemed to grow much). As of today 8 of them have formed chrysalises, 3 of them are wandering around their enclosure trying to decide where they want to form a chrysalis, and the other 10 are happily munching on dill while they finish growing.

Eastern Black Swallowtail Caterpillars

When an Eastern Black Swallowtail caterpillar is ready to form its chrysalis it becomes more active than ever, cruising around everywhere in search of the perfect location to settle down and begin its work of turning into a butterfly. Once the caterpillar selects a spot, it attaches itself by its back end, then creates a little sling for itself out of silk to hold its front end up.

Pre-Chrysalis Eastern Black Swallowtail Caterpillar    Eastern Black Swallowtail Chrysalis

Now that the caterpillars have gotten so much bigger I have to go out and pick more dill for them twice a day to keep up with their voracious appetites. Of course everything that goes in eventually comes out, so I’ve also had the delight of cleaning up more caterpillar poop than I ever thought possible! I really enjoy watching them eat, they’ll start at the tip of a dill leaf and slowly push it into their mouths with their little legs until they reach the end.

Eastern Black Swallowtail Caterpillar Eating Dill

I love their faces, and the way they press them against a stem when they’re resting. These little guys have really started to grow on me, which is good because I found another small batch of freshly laid eggs attached to my dill the other day. So far two have hatched, and the tiny 2mm long caterpillars will be the beginning to my third round of raising butterflies this summer!

Eastern Black Swallowtail Caterpillar Resting

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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? 😉

Grasping Caterpillar

 

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