Tuesday, June 15, 2010

What A Difference A Day Makes

What is this eating on my fennel? June 11th.

"The caterpillar does all the work but the butterfly gets all the publicity" ~ George Carlin

The new flowerbeds are filling up with plants to attract birds and bees and butterflies. So far, I haven't found any of the small yellow eggs on the butterfly weed that say the Monarchs are here. But a wide variety of tiny blues, painted lady's, zebra swallowtails and yellow sulfurs have been visiting. Then I saw this tiny creature on my fennel. The books say that this should be a black swallowtail... but it doesn't look like the picture. So more searching on Google and life cycles of butterflies and finally a picture.... an unlabeled picture.... then, even more searching. This fellow, or gal... (how DO you tell the male from the female caterpillar???)... was about one centimeter long with the tiny tufts of hair that were almost non-existent; black with a white belt and small orange nubby dots. Finally, I found a site that showed me the changes butterfly larvae make even before they morph into the butterfly. Sure enough... this IS a black swallowtail caterpillar that has graced our new garden!!

Then, I went out the next morning to check on our resident and was I ever glad to have already taken a picture of this fellow... because......

What a difference a day makes! June 12th.
Black swallowtail caterpillar. Papilio polyxenes
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The caterpillar had certainly changed his stripes... and color... and size. He grew, overnight, to two centimeters and now looked like the typical black swallowtail larvae. They love the fennel and parsley... but, I began to worry about the birds. The cardinals would surely have their eyes on this creature soon... after all, he is supposed to get to four centimeters in length before he builds his cocoon. So I took a big box, cut out the sides and covered it in a bit of screen mesh I had. I have a jar with water and holes punched in the lid in which I put cuttings of the fennel and parsley. I also stuck in a bare branch with small limbs for him to attach to. And I have moved him inside the sunroom. It is the 15th and he is almost three centimeters long. I expect it will be one more week before it is time for him to build his chrysalis and then another two weeks before he emerges. Isn't nature wonderful?

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