Next week I am giving programs in Brockton and Nauset however in early November I’ll be home, with a screening of the Black Swallowtail film for the Seaside Garden Club at the Manchester Community Center on the 10th, and on the 12th of November I am the guest speaker at the Sawyer Free Library!
Black Swallowtail Caterpillar
Life Story of the Black Swallowtail Butterflyis a 45-minute narrated film that takes place in a garden and at the sea’s edge. Every stage of the butterfly’s life cycle is experienced in vibrant close-up, from conception to pupation to metamorphosis. The film is suitable for all ages so 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, Massachusetts. Discussion and Q & A with the filmmaker to follow screening.
Queen Anne’s Lace, Black Swallowtail Caterpillar food Plant
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.
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.
Great Spangled Fritillary nectaring at native Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
Have you noticed the sheer numbers of our winged friends? Returning this evening from a swim at 6:45, I bumped into three Monarchs nectaring and a Red-spotted Purple (all in pristine, newly emerged condition). Early evening is an unusually late time of day for butterflies on the wing, especially when skies are slightly overcast. This, after a day of observing and shooting numerous numbers of butterflies, caterpillars and hummingbirds–and never leaving our garden. I work for a bit, but then the garden calls and I’m out the door with both video and still cameras. If this fabulously warm weather keeps up, I think we are in for another banner year with the butterflies, and skippers too.
Currently, we have 28 Monarchs, in various stages of development, residing in our kitchen, and seven Black Swallowtail caterpillars and chrysalids.
Black Swallowtail Caterpillar–note the fine “girdle” spun by the pupating caterpillar. Attached to the stem by both the girdle and a silky mat in which his last proleg is hooked, the caterpillar is securely latched. The proleg becomes the cremaster during pupation.
Newly formed chyrsalis
The darkening chyrsalis–perhaps it will emerge tomorrow! After ten days, the silky girdle and cremaster continue to perfectly support the pupa.
I am often asked why I collect butterfly eggs and don’t simply leave them in the garden. Butterfly larvae have a roughly one in ten chance of survival in the wild. In our kitchen, the odds increase exponentially, with a ten in ten rate of survival. For instance, I have learned, that after observing a butterfly deposit her eggs on a host plant, to gather them up quickly. If I become distracted and wait even only an hour, they often disappear, usually having been eaten or parasitized.
Common Buckeye and bee nectaring at native Gayfeather (Liatris spicata)
More detailed information on each species will be forthcoming. Much footage to edit…
Question Mark Butterfly and Patrice ~ My favorite photo of the season (click on the photo to see full size). Yesterday afternoon, Lisa Smith, one of the producers over at Cape Ann TV, with her After the Beach Video Club for Teens, were filming in the garden. While Patrice was interviewing me, this Question Mark alighted briefly on her shoulder several times. I was prepared the second time, with camera ready and adjusted to the appropriate settings. The Question Mark’s cooperation throughout the day’s shoot–nectaring, sunning itself, and taking long sips of sap through the chinks of bark in the weathered old pear tree–was very much appreciated by all; he was the true star of the day!
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.