Creating a wildlife haven one plant at a time

Saturday, May 26, 2012

A Close Look at the Black Swallowtail Caterpillar

Y'all know that one of my  passions is gardening for butterflies. But take a look at this...never before have we had so many caterpillars on one plant. 


Twenty black swallowtail caterpillars on this bronze fennel!

Look closely and you can see that they are at different instar stages.


They start out black with a white band in the first instar stage.


They shed their skin as they grow revealing the second instar stage; larger and more defined markings


In the third instar stage more green stripping is evident.


and finally looking like this as a the full grown caterpillar.


Fortunately, I have more fennel and parsley close by so there is plenty of food for all these hungry caterpillars. Black Swallowtails like anything in the carrot family (Apiaceae) which includes dill, fennel, parsley, carrot, Queen Anne's Lace (wild carrot) and celery as well as plants in the rue family (Rutaceae).

When they are ready they will wander off to find a good place to pupate.
We found this one in the pre-pupa stage on the side of a raised bed.


Hopefully a handful of these caterpillars will successfully become butterflies.

22 comments:

  1. Wow, they took care of the bronze fennel!! So happy you have so many caterpillars. So far my garden hasn't been found.

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    1. I do hope they find your garden! We have had an abundance of caterpillars this year. Even saw several Buckeyes this spring and usually I don't see them until late summer/early fall.

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  2. Oh wow..I am going to go check the Queens annes lace across the pond..love this post..Michelle

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  3. I didn't know what they ate as host..great post..

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    1. Here is a link to a list of common butterflies in the US and their host plants. I hope this helps you! http://butterflywebsite.com/butterflygardening.cfm

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  4. Wow, that is so exciting to have so many caterpillars on one plant!!! I have fennel, parsley, and milkweed for the butterflies this year. I've seen a few swallowtails on the parsley, but I'd be flipping out if I saw 20 on one plant!!! How fun :-)

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    1. I ran out and bought two more plants because they are making quick work of the four I have. I don't want them to go hungry! How did your garden walk go? I bet your garden was the highlight!

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  5. How great that you were able to observe them in all their different phases of caterpillar life. I will know what to look for here in a few more weeks.

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  6. I have plenty of carrot family plants and hope to see some of these cuties...I have seen the yellow and black swallowtails hanging around but have not discovered any caterpillars or eggs yet.

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  7. Wow, it's like having your own live sculpture.

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  8. So many! How wonderful. Loved hearing about the caterpillars, too. It's always confusing to me which caterpillar makes which butterfly!

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  9. Enjoyed this post. Amazing! Never seen anything like it either. I ususally just see one or two in my garden.

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    1. Me too. I couldn't believe it when we started counting all of them. We now have another brood on the parsley but the later instar caterpillars are making their way to the parsley so I am not sure there will be enough for them all to eat.

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  10. Interesting - I found my first swallowtail caterpillars on my fennel, too. Usually, it's the rue or parsley. What's weird here is that I've seen a lot of butterflies and caterpillars but haven't had any hummers yet. I love how the fennel grows back so quickly. Plus, it's foliage it beautiful. I wonder if the caterpillars think it tastes like licorice? ;o)

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    1. They usually find the parsley first too...it has taken two broods on the fennel before I found any on the parsley this year. The fennel sure does smell like licorice. I can smell the aroma when they are munching away...it probably is like candy to them. We have a male hummer in the garden. Waiting for the female to arrive. It does seem like they are slow this year.

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  11. Hmmm ... in my garden I have a reputation for eliminating any and all trace of caterpillars. I scour plants looking for the pests. Perhaps I'll be a little more gentle in future and move these to Queen Anne's lace, of which we have a bountiful supply.

    Great shots, Karin.

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  12. I really must get my bronze fennel planted out. The Black Swallowtails loved the flatleaf parsley last year so I started that and fennel this year. I hope my plants end up with as many cats as yours!

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  13. I live in Northwest Ohio and have Black Swallowtail caterpillars feeding on sweet fennel. I also have rue and parsley planted, but no larvae on those plants yet. I want to try bronze fennel for comparison.

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  14. I love this post..
    I wrote about you on my blog today.
    hugs, Cherry

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  15. OMG they are so plenty, it is good nothing is preying on it from that plant. That's a lot of butterflies later on, how so lovely.

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  16. Wow, that's really exceptional. Great you have been able to photograph this.

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