Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Caterpillar Planting

Butterflies are beautiful, but caterpillars are amazing! Here's an Eastern black swallowtail: Its range covers most of the U. S. and parts of Canada. The caterpillars primarily eat parsley or the leafy tops of dill and carrots. In our area (northern VA) the eggs hatch in late August or early September, but now is planting time for their food.

In the spring we spread parsley seeds in a patch near the front door. We enjoy several months of herbal harvest until the caterpillars appear. Then we share the greenery, feeding our baby insects in their big jar.With parsley to eat and a stick to climb, they're happy campers.
Eventually they assume "the position", molt the final skin, and appear as chrysalises.We usually overwinter them in the fridge; mature butterflies emerge in the spring.
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If you'd like to grow your own butterflies, try planting some parsley this spring. With some luck, a mama will lay her eggs in the summer and you'll have caterpillars to watch.
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For more details, you can read my butterfly posts here (they're in reverse order, with the oldest at the bottom). Anna Comstock's Handbook of Nature Study has a lesson on Eastern black swallowtails, and Rick Mikula's The Family Butterfly Book is also a useful resource (I borrow it from the library).

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