Thursday, September 11, 2008

We Have Caterpillars!

In the spring we grow our herbs near the front door: basil, thyme, chives, mint, and parsley. The parsley is for us and also for the caterpillars of the Eastern Black Swallowtail butterfly. They usually show up around the time school starts, but I was beginning to wonder if we'd have any this year.

Well, here they are! In the first days they are tiny and spiky and dark with a white band--one website said they look like bird droppings. They'll change quite a bit as time goes by... Tiny, eh?
The girls helped me gather supplies for the caterpillar habitat. First we broke skinny sticks to the right height for our big jar. The sticks help prop up fading parsley and give the caterpillars something sturdier to climb as they get FAT. Then we plucked parsley with caterpillars on it. This sprig has three!
Can you see them all?

Below is our completed habitat. We've found that a piece of old stocking with a rubber band is an ideal cover.

Watching these grow and change is a project we've done many times as a family, but I never tire of it. Fortunately I have enough "fresh" students to enjoy it with me.

I'll keep you posted on their progress; for now here is a little more info:

  • Eastern Black Swallowtails lay their eggs primarily on parsley, dill, and carrot tops.
  • Every day or two the parsley needs to be changed. Caterpillar waste (which starts out tiny and black and later gets bigger and greener) should be tapped out of the jar as well.
  • Occasionally spritz the jar with water to keep things moist but NOT wet.
  • Caterpillars found earlier in the summer make chrysalises and emerge soon after. Late season ones (like ours) will overwinter (outside or in the fridge) and emerge in the spring.
  • A great resource recommended to us long ago (and found in our library) is The Family Butterfly Book by Rick Mikula.

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