The Butterfly Diaries

black swallowtail butterfly
2 Flares Twitter 0 Facebook 0 Google+ 0 Pin It Share 1 Buffer 1 Email -- Filament.io 2 Flares ×

Nearly a month ago I discovered a small pot of dill that I had set on our patio was completely covered in what appeared to be tiny black worms. Being neither a gardner nor an entomologist (case in point: I just had to google “scientist who studies insects” because I couldn’t even remember that word.), I flicked those suckers right off. Most of them, anyway. A couple days later I noticed them again. They had grown and now came with obvious markings. Coupled with the fact they had clearly ONLY chose the dill to feast on, it made searching for just what they may be pretty simple.

Answer: Black Swallowtail Caterpillars

Kind enough to return after I flicked half of them into the bushes just a couple days earlier. The top one is slightly further along in its maturation. It is speculated that the markings on the lower one are its defense mechanism. That defense being "dude, make yourself look like bird crap and maybe they won't eat you".

Kind enough to return after I flicked half of them into the bushes just a couple days earlier. The top one is slightly further along in its maturation. It is speculated that the markings on the lower one are its defense mechanism. That defense being “dude, make yourself look like bird crap and maybe they won’t eat you”.

In my internet travels, I discovered that unlike the usual returns you’d find when searching for what sort of bug is destroying your plants (I picture bearded men in straw hats holding pitchforks shaking their fists at the sky), people seemed grateful to have these attractive doctors of destruction crash their herb party. (Dill, parsley, carrot fronds, rue, and queen anne’s lace being their menu of choice.) In part to appease my pet starved children and to atone for the legions of mosquitos I’ve murdered so far this summer, I swiftly placed the dill plant in the large apothecary jar I had in my basement. After bringing it inside, I covered it with tulle leftover from some failed costume project and set it on the counter to watch over like any proper caterpillar lord. Sorry birds! No snacks for you.

Two days later, several of the 8 began to shed their first instar skin into the second. And hey! Look! They just leave their discarded clothes where they took them off just like the rest of the people that live in my house.

Over the next week and a half they grew FAST. And ate A LOT. It was at this point that they became extra interesting to my son as watching them poop was more entertaining than the Disney Channel (Spoiler Alert: less shitty too!). One lucky, lucky day we actually witnessed one take a dump on the dude perched below him. The interest plateaued there until the next stage.

Eventually I switched them to parsley as they were mowing down the dill plants like they had a damn job to pay for them or something.

The last days of the gang. Only one didn’t make it this far.
The white stripes had morphed to a pale green and any spikes had smoothed as they plumped.

By about the tenth day, they had slowed, some to a total stand still. A few nibbled their way through the remaining parsley leaves, while a few settled in to do their quiet work.

Unlike some caterpillars which form into the chrysalis stage by hanging in a “j” shape from a stick, the black swallowtails attach themselves parallel in more of a “c” shape via two impossibly strong silken threads. The threads suspend in a V shape 1/3 of the way back from their head. They are seemingly indestructible.

 

Here’s the part where I nerded out beyond all the nerding out I had done thus far. As the seven harbingers of mind blowing were all “ooh, this spot looks nice. Think I’ll wrap myself up in my sleeping bag now and take a crazy nap” they MATCHED THEIR CHRYSALIS TO WHERE THEY WERE.

Halfway into the chrysalis stage.

Halfway into the chrysalis stage.

 

Fully in and very fashion forward.

Fully in and very fashion forward.

I vacillate between being utterly fascinated and completely creeped out.

I vacillate between being utterly fascinated and completely creeped out.

 

While in their chrysalis’, I discovered they are not completely still. Occasionally they would twitch in the most alien way. It reminded me of being pregnant and feeling elbows and what I can only imagine was my kid attempting to hail a cab from inside my uterus. Miraculous and amazing and yet freakish as HELL.

Ten days later, three emerged in quick succession. Curiously, they were not necessarily the first that had wrapped up, so I guess they all come in their own time.

One had hatched and this previously green chrysalis had become transparent enough to see the pattern of the wings. I knew this meant he would emerge any minute. I watched and watched and as soon as someone needed a milk refill, taking me away from the action, BAM. Butterfly.

One had hatched and this previously green chrysalis had become transparent enough to see the pattern of the wings. I knew this meant he would emerge any minute. I watched and watched and as soon as someone needed a milk refill, taking me away from the action, BAM. Butterfly.

Fresh out.

Fresh out, still holding on to the chrysalis.

With still wet, yet to be unfurled wings.

With still wet, yet to be unfurled wings.

 

From emergence to full on butterfly only about five minutes elapsed. I made sure they had ample space to extend their wings properly and eventually we took them outside and placed them on some milkweed growing in our yard.

20140709-164831-60511571.jpg

A couple emerged the next day, and worried that this one had damaged his wings before I could get to him, I texted my husband expressing my concern that he had yet to fly off. He replied. “Great. He got free room and board for a month. Tell him to mow the lawn and take out the garbage.”

 

As of this moment, 5 have hatched and disappeared to explore the world. Two are still tucked in taking their grand old time. YOLO, butterflies. For like 4 weeks. So do it up, dudes.

I can’t garden for my life, I kill houseplants before I even get them IN my house and our cat named Karate ran away the first time I let his stupid meowing face outside. But, I unofficially appoint myself The Butterfly Whisperer.

My thoughts exactly.

My thoughts exactly.

amateur comedian, professional bullshitter. will take pay in baked goods once already rich.