Here’s how you can help choose the Massachusetts state butterfly –
The choice is between the Black Swallowtail, the Great Spangled Fritillary, and the Mourning Cloak butterflies. All three are beautiful species of Lepidoptera, but as you know from my work, I am partial to the Black Swallowtail. I cast my vote for the Black Swallowtail and here is why. Both the Great Spangled Fritillary and Mourning Cloak are less commonly seen. I’d like children who are developing an interest in butterflies to have the opportunity to get to know their state butterfly easily. Black Swallowtails are widespread and very well-known. In a good year, Black Swallowtails will have two broods. The caterpillars eat plants kids can easily identify and plant, such as carrots, dill, fennel, parsley, and the common wildflower Queen Anne’s Lace. Black Swallowtails are typically on the wing throughout the summer, beginning in early spring through late summer.
On the other hand, the Great Spangled Fritillary caterpillars eat strictly violet plants. This butterfly is usually only seen for about a month, during mid-summer, and has one brood of caterpillars. In our region of Massachusetts, the Mourning Cloak may have a second brood, if we have an early spring, but I only see them in spring, near pussywillows, and again in the fall when they are getting ready to hibernate.
Black Swallowtails are found in backyards, gardens, meadows, marshes, and along the shoreline. They love to drink nectar from wildflowers, including milkweed (as you can see in the short film below) and many, many common garden plants such as lilacs, coneflowers, zinnias, and butterfly bush.
Although not a native North American wildflower, Queen Anne’s Lace has adapted to our climate well, reportedly growing in every state save for Idaho, Alaska, and Hawaii. A member of the Umbelliferae, or Carrot Family, Queen Anne’s Lace also goes by the common names Wild Carrot, Bird’s Nest, and Bishops’s Lace. The root of young plants, although white, tastes like a carrot, and when rubbed together between fingers, the foliage smells of parsley (also a member of the Umbel Family).
Queen Anne’s Lace is a caterpillar food plant of the Black Swallowtail Butterfly. Don’t despair butterfly lovers. Although the butterflies have been slow to awaken this year, I have high hopes that just as flowering plants are several weeks behind, so too will the the butterflies emerge–only later than expected.
Please join me Tuesday evening at 7pm at the Chelmsford Public Library for my lecture The Pollinator Garden. The event is free and open to the public. I hope to see you there!
Reader Wendy Beer writes and submits terrific photo of a Black Swallowtail caterpillar on Queen Anne’s Lace:
I came across your web site when I was trying to find out what kind of caterpillar I had in my back yard. I was thrilled to find your website and now am following your updates. Thank you so much for answering my question about the Queen Anne’s lace and the Black Swallowtail Butterfly. I have attached the picture I took in my back yard (London, Ontario) for you.
Thanks to Kate and the team at Wolf Hill for giving me a second Black Swallowtail caterpillar of the season. And, as I was getting ready to discard the parsley plant from the first caterpillar they had found at the garden center earlier in May, I discovered yet a third caterpillar.
Chrysalis #2 eclosed yesterday in the early morning hours. The butterfly in the photo above is newly emerged, so much so that you can see its abdomen is still swollen with fluids as it is expelling a drop. After first drying his wings on the zinnias, he flew off in search of nectar and a mate. I just can’t thank Kate, and everyone at Wolf Hill, who has taken an interest in the caterpillars!
This past autumn I wrote about a Black Swallowtail caterpillar that was discovered munching on the parley plants at Wolf Hill Garden Center in Gloucester. The caterpillar had left the parsley plant and wandered around the office at Wolf Hill, where it had pupated, or in other words, turned into a chrysalis, on the razor-thin edge of an envelope. By chance, I met Kate, who works at Wolf Hill, one afternoon at Eastern Point while I was filming Monarchs, where she and her friend were looking at the butterflies through binoculars. She asked if I would be interested in taking care of the chrysalis over the winter. I of course said I would be delighted to do so!
The butterfly chrysalis lived in a terrarium all winter. The terrarium was placed in an unheated entryway. I thought it best for the chrysalis to experience normal winter temperatures rather than live in a heated home where it might be fooled into thinking it was spring. In the early spring we brought the terrarium onto our unheated front porch so that it would be exposed to both the normal outdoor temperature and daylight .
A stunning male Black Swallowtail emerged last week. Earlier that very day I had seen a female Black Swallowtail nectaring at azaleas at a farm in a neighboring town. See the original post on Good Morning Gloucester about Kate and the Wolf Hill caterpillar.
When you have a spare minute, I hope you”ll take a moment to look at the new website for my forthcoming film Life Story of the Black Swallowtail Butterfly. I had lots of fun creating the website and it was great to be able to assemble and house all the information in one place, including photos, upcoming events, the trailer, and a share page. Please let me what you think. THANK YOU!
Please join me Monday evening for a tour of the butterfly gardens I designed for Willowdale Estate. Come experience a taste of Briar’s gracious hospitality and enjoy refreshments served in the conservatory. The tulips are at their peak and look simply spectacular this year. I will also be showing several of my short films. Please RSVP to Sarah at: Sarah@WillowdaleEstate.com ~ 978-887-8211.
As everyone who knows me knows, I have been working on developing this film for nearly two years. It is the first to be completed in the trilogy and I am overjoyed to announce the premier ewill be held at the Cape Ann Community Cinema. Many thanks toRob Newton for inviting me to have the premiere at his wonderfully unique and super fun movie theatre. I hope everyone will come celebrate this special night with me. I think you will love seeing scenes of our native flora and fauna, filmed all around Gloucester and Cape Ann, on the Big Screen.
The Life Story of the Black Swallowtail Butterfly is a 45-minute narrated film. Every stage of the butterfly’s life cycle is experienced in vibrant close-up, from conception to pupation to metamorphosis. The film is for adults and for children so that all can gain a deeper understanding of the symbiotic relationship between wildflowers and pollinators and the vital role they play in our ecosystem. Filmed in Gloucester.
Note ~ The beautiful music that you hear is my daughter Liv singing and friend Kathleen Adams on the accompanying organ. The song is their improvisation of the Quaker dance song “Simple Gifts.” The soundtrack was recorded at the Annisquam Village Church on the organ built by Gloucester’s own Jeremy Adams. Thank you Liv and Kathleen!
To celebrate Earth Day (Earth Week-Earth Month-Everyday is Earth Day!), I am beginning a new series on both my blog and on Good Morning Gloucester titled Habitat Gardening 101. The series is based on the lectures that I give to area conservation groups, libraries, garden clubs, and schools and is designed to provide information on the relationships between our native flora and fauna, and how to translate that information to your own garden. You will find in this series information on how to support and encourage to your garden a wide variety of wildlife, including songbirds, butterflies, bees, moths, skippers, hummingbirds, and small mammals, and the trees, wildflowers, shrubs, vines, and groundcovers that sustain these beautiful creatures.
This series could just as well be titled Beauty in Our Midst because there are so many gems to be found along our shoreline, meadows, fields, wetlands, dunes, woodlands, and roadsides. Although the series will cover a wide array of flora and wildlife, the first posts will be about several butterfly attracting trees and shrubs because they are currently in bloom. Coming Wednesday, the North American native Pussy Willow will be featured. For today, the following is one of my Top Ten Tips for Attracting Lepidoptera to Your Garden.
Habitat Gardening 101 Tip #1: Plant Caterpillar Food Plants
So you want to attract tons of butterflies to your garden and you plant lots of gorgeous, colorful nectar-rich plants—and that is wonderful. To your garden will come many beautiful, albeit transient, butterflies, along with an array of many different species of beneficial pollinators. However, if you want butterflies to colonize your garden, in other words, to experience the grand beauty of the creature through all its stages of life, from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to adult, you must also plant caterpillar food plants.
Black Swallowtail Butterfly Egg on Fennel (the pinhead-sized golden yellow dot)
Each species of butterfly caterpillar will only eat from a family of plants it has coevolved a relationship with over millennia. We call this a caterpillar food plant, host plant, or larval food plant.
Perhaps you may recall that the Monarch Butterfly only deposits her eggs on milkweed plants. The Black Swallowtail Butterfly deposits her eggs on, and the caterpillars feast on, members of Umbelliferae (Apiaceae), or carrot family of plants, including carrots, parsley, fennel, dill, and Queen Anne’s Lace. Some caterpillars, like the stunning Eastern Tiger Swallowtail feed from several plant families, like those of Magnoliaceae and Rosaceae, which species include the Wild Black Cherry, the Tulip Tree, and the Sweet Bay Magnolia.
If you see a green, black and yellow striped and spotted caterpillar munching on your parsley plant, it is not a Monarch caterpillar; it is a Black Swallowtail caterpillar (I am often asked this question). Monarch caterpillars are striped yellow, black, and white, always. You will never find a Black Swallowtail caterpillar munching on milkweed; likewise you will never find a Monarch caterpillar eating your parsley and fennel.
Another question frequently asked is, if I invite caterpillars to my garden, will they devour all the foliage. The answer is, for the most part, no. The damage done is relatively minimal, the plant generally recovers quickly, and bear in mind too, that plants have evolved with many mechanisms to discourage their complete destruction. Remember, the plant was responsible for inviting the butterfly to its flower in the first place!
Note too, that if you invite butterflies to your garden to deposit their eggs, please don’t turn around and spray pesticides, which will kill all, indiscriminately. A habitat garden, by its very definition, is an organic garden, which means no herbicides, insecticides, pesticides, and chemical fertilizers.
Feel free to send any and all questions, suggestions for a topic, or curiosity, to the comment section under each post.
Cape Ann Milkweed Project Update: Because of the chilly spring weather, milkweed shoots are slow to emerge.
So many, many thanks to my former botany professor, Dr. Kanchi Gandhi, who sent my BomBom Butterflies video to many of his colleagues, friends, and students. My video is getting a growing number of hits in India! I loved every second of Doctor Gandhi’s class and wished often I could be his full time student. Professor Gandhi’s classes are held in the Harvard University Herbaria, with more than 5 million plant specimens. Along with its library, the Herbaria forms the world’s largest university owned herbarium.
Doctor Gandhi’s interests are in the areas of plant nomenclature, plant morphology, and plant taxonomy. He is currently working on the International Plant Name Index, the HUH lookup tables, and Flora of North America project. In 2010 he was awarded the American Society of Plant Taxonomist Distinguished Service Award, which is only given occasionally and reserved for individuals who have made exceptional efforts for ASPT or the plant-systematics community in general.
India is a country rich in flora and many species of butterlies. A beautiful Indian butterfly we on Cape Ann may find particularly interesting is the Blue Tiger Butterfly (Tirumala limniace).
It bears a striking resemblance to our Monarch Butterfly (both members of Nymphalidae, sub-family Danainae, or Brush-foot Family of butterflies) with the clearly defined mitten-shaped cell on the underside of the hindwing. And like our Monarch caterpillars, Blue Tiger caterpillars generally feed on the milkweed family of plants (Asclepiadaceae). Another similarity is that the Blue Tiger migrates through Southern India, although the distance traveled is not quite as long as that of the Monarchs.
Last week while filming on Eastern Point I had the pleasure to meet Kate, who works at Wolf Hill. She was with a friend and they were looking for butterflies through binoculars. I had seen Kate often at the garden center, but never stopped to chat. We were talking about all things butterfly when she mentioned that she had a Black Swallowtail caterpillar on a parsley plant back at the nursery office. She offered the caterpillar to me and I gladly accepted. My Black Swallowtail film is nearing completion but there was one missing piece to the story.
Black Swallowtail Chrysalis ~ Green Form
The swallowtail chrysalides that I had on film were all greenish gold. Oftentimes the Black Swallowtail chyrsalis will turn a woody brown, but no matter how hard I looked, I could not find a woody brown chrysalis. Not showing the brown form, I knew, would confuse viewers, especially families who are interested in raising swallowtails.
Kate’s caterpillar pupated while she was away from work for a few days. When she returned she found the chrysalis had wandered from the parsley plant and it had pupated on the razor thin edge of an envelope-as office caterpillars are want to do. Well, you guessed it–the Wolf Hill pupa was the brown form!
Black Swallowtail Chrysalis ~ Brown Form
I know it is said often on the pages of this blog, but Kate’s thoughfullness goes to show once again what a beautiful community is Gloucester–stunning visually, and most special of all, are the beautiful, kind-hearted people who call Gloucester home. Thank you Kate!
Not finding a brown chrysalis is a relatively escoteric problem, to say the least, but I think you will agree that the two forms of the pupal case are remarkably different in appearance. In this photo you can see where I have taped the envelope behind a tree trunk in order to film. This is how you would find the chrysalis in a more natural setting.
There are several openings remaining in my Close-up Photography Workshop at the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University, which will be held this coming Sunday morning at 9:00 am. I would love to see you there! Follow this link to register.
Capturing a sharply in focus close-up of a butterfly, especially one in mid-flight, is one of the greatest challenges of photography and I will be revealing techniques such as these, and more; techniques that have taken many, many hours over many years to perfect. All the photos I have shot in the past year and a half were taken not with a zoom lens, but were shot with a 23mm prime lens. I am typically photographing within a foot’s distance of the butterflies!
Fujifilm X series cameras pose their own set of challenges, especially when shooting close-up. Fujifilm X series owner’s especially may find this class helpful.
Last week the Giant Swallowtail butterfly visited our garden for a brief moment. I ran indoors to get my camera but it had departed by the time I returned. This morning my my friend John, who lives across from Folly Cove, emailed to say he too has spotted a Giant Swallowtail. John and I correspond regularly about butterfly sightings–I love to hear about what he is seeing on the other side of the island– and this is the first time both he and I have observed Giant Swallowtails in our gardens.
One of my readers, Marti Warren, wrote in on Monday that she spotted a Giant Swallowtail Butterfly last week in her garden in Amherst,New Hampshire.
From my favorite butterfly book, Butterflies of the East Coast by Cech and Tudor, “Although they are not regular migrants, Giant Swallowtails have appeared with some consistency as vagrants in the North, and occasionally form colonies.”
On the range map provided in the above book, the northern border of Massachusetts is at the end of the Giant Swallowtails range so I think it is fairly unusual to see one in central New Hampshire.
Male Black Swallowtail Butterfly (Papilo polyxenes)
Three easy ways to know whether you are seeing the more common male Black Swallowtail or the Giant Swallowtail.
1) The wingspan of the male Black Swallowtail is approximately 3.2 inches; the Giant Swallowtail’s wingspan nearly five inches.
2) Both the male and female Giant Swallowtails have a band of yellow spots that converge near the apex.
3) Additionally, the only blue irredescence on the Giant Swallowtail is a semi-circular “eyebrow” over the orange and black eyespots.
Let me know if you think you have seen a Giant Swallowtail in your garden recently. If you have a photo, even better!
Last summer the Ciaramitaro girls stopped by our garden to see a newly emerged Monarch butterfly. After releasing the butterfly, Eloise wanted to learn more about the Monarchs, and butterflies in general. This year she remembered from their visit the previous year that the Monarch caterpillar food plant is milkweed. Eloise, who I am convinced is a budding naturalist and artist, is an avid gardener (just ask her about her vegetable patch!), so I promised her milkweed plants. We scouted out a sunny a corner of the family’s yard and, after mom Jill helped dig up the sod, we planted a petite butterfly garden, with Common Milkweed for the Monarchs, parsley and fennel for the Black Swallowtails, and marigolds to attract the nectaring insects. We’re looking forward to their first butterfly sightings!
You’ve heard me talking about my butterfly documentary (for Months now!). I began filming the black swallowtails last July and am only now close to premiering my film. I am so excited to share this project with you and hope you enjoy the trailer.
My daughter Liv and our dear friend Kathleen Adams collaborated on a beautiful rendition of “Simple Gifts.” The music in the background is an improv interlude from their recording session.
Coming soon: Documentary about the Life Story of the Black Swallowtail Butterfly, from egg, to caterpillar, to chryrsalis, to adult. Filmed in a garden and along the seashore, Gloucester, Massachusetts. Featuring the black swallowtail butterfly, wildflowers, pollinators, the sun, the garden, and more.
Coming Soon: Life Story of the Black Swallowtail Butterfly tells the story of the ubiquitous and stunning Black Swallowtail butterfly.
Black Swallowtail Butterfly
My new documentary film captures the beauty and mystery of the Black Swallowtail, through all its life stages, and in it’s surrounding habitats. I think you will be amazed and captivated by this garden-variety and seemingly ordinary, extraordinary butterfly!
From Egg to Caterpillar to Chrysalis to Adult
Black Swallowtail Eggs
Black Swallowtail Caterpillar Everting Osmeterium
Black Swallowtail Emerging from Chrysalis
Newly Emerged Black Swallowtail Butterfly
Male Black Swallowtail Butterfly Nectaring at Fennel
Female Black Swallowtail Butterfly
One of several preferred Black Swallowtail habitats—Gloucester’s sandy wildflower meadow at Good Harbor Beach. The milkweed provides nectar for swallowtails on the wing and Queen Anne’s Lace is a food plant of the Black Swallowtail caterpillars.
This gorgeous female Black Swallowtail butterfly emerged during Hurricane Irene. What to do when a butterfly ecloses during inclement weather? Take a moment to enjoy it’s beauty close-up, provide food in the way of nectar plants, and wait until the storm abates before releasing.
Newly Emerged Female Black Swallowtail Butterfly (Papilio polyxenes)
I am often asked “why is that green, yellow, and black Monarch caterpillar eating my parsley”?
Black Swallowtail Caterpillar
Chances are, you will never see a Monarch caterpillar on your parsley. By far and away it is more likely that you have the caterpillar of the gorgeous Black Swallowtail Butterfly (Papilio polyxenes).
Caterpillars that are actively feeding are usually only found on their larval host plant(s), the plant they have developed a distinctive coevolutionary relationship with over millennia. Monarch caterpillars do not eat parsley and Black Swallowtail caterpillars do not eat milkweed, and if either attempted, they would not survive. Black Swallowtails were in the past commonly referred to as the Parsnip Swallowtail as their caterpillar food plants belong to members of the Umbelliferae, or Carrot Family. The diet of the Black Swallowtail caterpillar includes the foliage and flowers of carrot plants, fennel, dill, parsley, Queen Anne’s lace, and parsnips.
The Monarch caterpillar is yellow, black, and white. The Black Swallowtail caterpillar is green, black, and yellow.
Please see my Life Story of the Black Swallowtail Butterfly film’s website for videos and more photos documenting the butterfly’s life cycle.