Phlutters – Here We Go Again/Part V

SUCCESS!

The first butterfly emerged today. I came home from an outing and found the newly born winged creature on the screen door. When I did swing the door open the butterfly flew away so quickly I knew he/she was healthy and without any flaw that will keep it from sipping nectar and reproducing in the next few weeks.

And a little sidenote…

My pots of dill have at least eleven new black swallowtail caterpillars munching away. Here we go again…again!

Phlutters – Here We Go Again/Part III

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The caterpillars have gone through their instars, and are ready to start the process of metamorphosis into a butterfly.  One caterpillar has hidden his chrysalis well, or somehow made his way outdoors under the screen door. Four of the caterpillars created, or are in the process of creating, their chrysalis cases on the screens and walls.

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The caterpillars stiffen into this comma shape for quite awhile before the transformation to chrysalis takes place.

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When the chrysalis forms it has quite an alien look.

Three of the caterpillars chose well and are five or six feet above the floor.

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This one chose a terrible spot. He is only three feet up, on the doorjamb, exactly where the everyone passes when they go outdoors. I cut the bottom off a yogurt cup and used duct tape to place it around the unwise caterpillar as a barrier. Hopefully, I will be able to remove it when the time comes for him to emerge. I am hoping to post some photographs of black swallowtail in a few weeks.

Phlutters – Here We Go Again/Part II

When I checked the fennel plant today all the smaller caterpillars were gone. There was only one still feasting, and he was large and blended in with the green fronds. The smaller black ones are easy to spot and were probably a meal for a hungry bug or bird. Butterfly populations are dwindling and I’m annoyed with myself for leaving so many outdoors for the predators.

Indoors, to keep the caterpillars near the fennel and off the screens of the porch when they form a chrysalis, I placed the milk carton in a tight fitting ceramic pot and created an arrangement of sticks between the two. It works great! The sticks are stable, don’t blow in the wind, and even if knocked they seem to stay in place.

The largest caterpillar appears to be getting close to forming its chrysalis.

Do caterpillars think? Probably not, but this one certainly looks as if its contemplating what to do next.

Perspective & Phlutters – Here We Go Again

Black Swallowtail butterflies are visiting my gardens earlier than in previous years. I’m thrilled by their presence and even happier to find my fennel plant loaded with caterpillars. Just as I feared though, a daily check on the fennel reveals a diminished amount of newly hatched caterpillars. They fall victim to predatory bugs and some birds. I found a great article on insects that eat Monarchs and other butterfly caterpillars.  Butterfly Predators.

In years past I grew pots of dill with the purpose of saving caterpillars from predators. The idea worked and I was able to save quite a few and they reached maturity on my back porch. Unfortunately, this early in the season my dill sprouts are only a few inches tall. What do do?

A water-filled milk carton with a piece of screen rubber-banded around the top is a good solution. The screen is a must or I risk drowned caterpillars. Although the fennel was limp for a few hours after cutting, it soon perked up. I cut about three fronds, and might need to add more as the caterpillars eat. Because I didn’t want to hand-pick the caterpillars and risk harming them, I cut away just the small tip they were on and placed it within the larger fennel pieces. The caterpillars are doing well, this is day three of their protected feasting on the porch. As they grow I will add pots of twigs in the vicinity for them to begin their metamorphosis upon. In past years several caterpillars rejected the twigs and created their chrysalis on the porch screens and even the wall. This also worked great and all but one emerged unscathed by the human intervention.

Why do I do this? Butterfly populations are declining all over the world due to pollution, insecticides, carbon dioxide, loss of habitat, etc. Giving a few a helping hand might add hundreds more to the environment, and this makes the time I spend saving a few completely worthwhile. I left at least half of the caterpillars outside on the fennel. I’m hoping several will evade detection by hungry predators and make it to the chrysalis stage.

 

Plant & Phlutters – The Fennel Cafeteria

The fennel survived the winter and is a cloud of softest, hazy foliage in the Square Foot Garden. I was admiring it when I spotted a contrasting strand of something black on the foliage.

Could it be? Yes! A swallowtail caterpillar snacking on the fronds. Not only one caterpillar was in the midst of the cloud of fennel, but over half a dozen. I’ve never noticed swallowtail caterpillars so early in the season. I am hoping that the density of the fennel will protect the caterpillars from predators.

 

Phlutters – A Day of Small Miracles Part I

In a November post, Comminatory Weather and the Big Save, I described how I saved two Swallowtail butterfly caterpillars from a hard freeze in my garden. One didn’t make it, but the other formed a chrysalis which has rested on the soil of a dried out pot of dill for several months.


I left it alone for the most part, only dripping a bit of water on it now and then when I watered my plants. Today when I entered the room and checked on my garden seedlings, something fluttered and flew off the pot; I knew right away the caterpillar had changed into a butterfly.

I extended a finger, nudged his legs, and he walked on. If he had emerged in the midst of cold weather I would have tried to craft several fake flowers connected to jars of sugar water for him to survive on, but since it has warmed up and there are many flowers and trees blooming, I knew outdoors was his best chance.

I took him to the garden and gently let him move onto the edge of a daffodil. He looked happy until I moved and then he flew about twenty feet out into the yard. He flew fine, but it seemed one of his bottom wings was not quite extended all the way. He rested on the grass for quite awhile, flying now and then several feet one way then another. Suddenly, he extended his wings, flew, and was quickly out of sight. I was thrilled. Every day is blessed when it contains a small miracle or two. Part 2 of my small miracle day will be posted tomorrow.

Project – Comminatory Weather and The Big Save

Comminatory is the challenge word today for ‘Your Daily Word Prompt.’ I enjoy expanding my vocabulary, and this was a new word for me: comminatory-threatening, punitive, or vengeful. We have certainly had a change to comminatory weather here in southern New Jersey. Frost, frozen bird baths, ice-sheathed grass blades, are what we wake to in the early morning hours. Today I noticed every garden flower that was lingering is now brown and drooping lifelessly.

I knew a freeze was coming, and took a bit of time on Saturday to walk around the yard and take a few photos of the last flowers of Autumn. I noticed the dill was still green and on closer inspection was astonished to see two black swallowtail caterpillars on its foliage. Since I had good luck a year ago raising caterpillars on dill plants on the porch I decided I should try and save these poor critters from the hard freeze. Unfortunately, my ambitions were forgotten until the evening hours. Resolved not to be put off by my forgetfulness, I went out in the dark and found one caterpillar, the other eluded me.

I placed him in a vase and covered the opening with a knee-high stocking. These make great barriers and are easy to slip over the top of a jar or vase. The soft nylon will not harm the insect.

The caterpillar became lively overnight and the next day my grandsons helped me create a habitat for him. We dug up any dill plants still growing, a parsley plant, and added branching sticks for him to form a chrysalis upon. I know from past experience, while eating and growing, the caterpillar will not leave the food source. When he’s ready to form a chrysalis he might wander, but its fairly easy to find him if he is contained in one area.

We decided it was worth a second look in the garden for the second caterpillar, and after a little searching found him motionless in the garden soil. My grandson said he thought he saw him twitch a bit so we carefully brushed him into a small container and took him indoors. Within an hour or two the caterpillar that appeared lifeless began to move and this morning had joined the other on the dill.

Black swallowtails in their chrysalis have no problem overwintering. A small caterpillar, caught in a hard freeze, isn’t likely to survive to form a chrysalis without a food source. Updates will follow on our winter visitors.

Perspective – Decimated Dill

My Dill plant has been doing incredibly well…until…yesterday. The plant is being decimated, and instead of me doing my usual stomping about and muttering about insect and animal pests I am doing a happy dance. Why you may ask?

Because under the umbrella of blossoms I spotted a Black Swallowtail Caterpillar. Oh Happy Day! On closer inspection I found five more, and I am sure there were many more in the surrounding garden that I did not see.

The caterpillars are small, only about an inch long at most, but they are voracious, fast growing, and I am sure in a few weeks I will be seeing many Black Swallowtail Butterflies flitting around my yard. I must have my camera ready at all times. I can’t wait.