Welcome to My Caterpillar Ranch

I found this Black Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillar crawling in the middle of my lawn and gave it a ride to this fennel plant, where it attached itself with a sling to a fennel stalk.  Some time during the night it shrugged off its skin and became a chrysalis.

I found this Black Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillar crawling in the middle of my lawn and gave it a ride to this fennel plant, where it attached itself with a sling to a fennel stalk. Some time during the night it shrugged off its skin and became a chrysalis.

I used to freak out when I saw a caterpillar on one of my plants. Now, I’m disappointed when I don’t see them. And now how do I feel when I see them? So happy!

Here is a Black Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillar feeding on a dill plant.  The day after I photographed this caterpillar on the dill, it disappeared. I thought it had either died or crawled away to pupate. Then, I found it (I think) crawling in the middle of my lawn, far from any twig to attach itself to.  I gave it a lift on a stick to one of my fennel plants in case it needed a little more food.   The next day I saw it had attached itself to a twig and the day after that it was a chrysalis.

Here is a Black Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillar feeding on a dill plant. The day after I photographed this caterpillar on the dill, it disappeared. I thought it had either died or crawled away to pupate. Then, I found it (I think it was the same one) crawling in the middle of my lawn, far from any twig to attach itself to. I gave it a lift on a stick to one of my fennel plants in case it needed a little more food. The next day I saw it had attached itself to a twig and the day after that it was a chrysalis.

Many of the plants in my garden are members of the carrot family, which are the food source of Black Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillars. I’ve planted bronze fennel, parsley and dill, plus there’s wild Queen Anne’s Lace nearby. So far, the BST butterflies have only laid eggs on the fennel, so I was happily surprised when I found a large caterpillar on a dill plant, which is fifty feet from the rest of my butterfly garden.

The next day the caterpillar was gone, another casualty or was it pupating somewhere? Then I found a caterpillar struggling to crawl in the grass in the middle of my lawn. Where was he going? If he was from the dill plant, he’d already crawled more than 50 feet. I gave him a lift on a stick and stuck him on a fennel plant.  Then he pupated there.

I'm giving a Black Swallowtail Butterfly Caterpillar a ride on a stick.  I found him in the grass in my lawn far from anywhere to pupate.  Although BST caterpillars can travel a long way, I was afraid he'd be stepped on.

I’m giving a Black Swallowtail Butterfly Caterpillar a ride on a stick. I found him in the grass in my lawn far from anywhere to pupate. Although BST caterpillars can travel a long way, I was afraid he’d be stepped on.

About the Black Swallowtail Butterfly.

What do Black Swallowtail Caterpillars eat?

I'm amazed that I saw this Black Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillar crawling through my lawn.  If he was from my dill plant, he'd already traveled more than 50 feet.

I’m amazed that I saw this Black Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillar crawling through my lawn. If he was from my dill plant, he’d already traveled more than 50 feet

This is one of the few times I've seen this orange gland on an annoyed Black Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillar.  Usually, the caterpillars are fairly easy-going and don't mind me puttering around.  The black swallowtail caterpillar has an orange "forked gland", called the osmeterium. When in danger, the osmeterium, which looks like a snake's tongue, appears and releases a foul smell to repel predators. I didn't smell anything, so I'm lucky.

This is one of the few times I’ve seen this orange gland on an annoyed Black Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillar. Usually, the caterpillars are fairly easy-going and don’t mind me puttering around. The black swallowtail caterpillar has an orange “forked gland”, called the osmeterium. When in danger, the osmeterium, which looks like a snake’s tongue, appears and releases a foul smell to repel predators. I didn’t smell anything, so I’m lucky.

Here's a Black Swallowtail Butterfly egg on the left.  To the right you can see a spider in its web.

Here’s a Black Swallowtail Butterfly egg on the left. To the right you can see a spider in its web. Butterflies have many predators at all stages in their development.

A Black Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillar rests after a day of eating fennel. It's amazing that a caterpillar can survive and thrive on only one plant.  The orange blobs in the background are cosmos flowers, which the adult butterflies get nectar from.

A Black Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillar rests after a day of eating fennel. It’s amazing that a caterpillar can survive and thrive on only one plant. The orange blobs in the background are cosmos flowers, which the adult butterflies get nectar from.

Here's one of the early instars (or stages) of a Black Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillars. Below you can see a tiny spider in its web.

Here’s one of the early instars (or stages) of a Black Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillars. Below you can see a tiny spider in its web.

I placed the Black Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillar on this fennel plant after I found him in the middle of my yard.  He seemed exhausted from his travels.

I placed the Black Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillar on this fennel plant after I found him in the middle of my yard. He seemed exhausted from his travels.

Below is a beautiful adult Black Swallowtail Butterfly, which I photographed on a coneflower in my garden. In addition to host plants for caterpillars, you also need many nectar flowering plants to attract and feed the adults. Bonus: Nectar flower plants are also beautiful!  From Monarch Watch: Tips on how to start a Butterfly Garden.

Click on any photo thumbnail below to see it full-size and in a slide show.

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20 Comments

Filed under Butterflies, Gardening, Insects, Nature, Photography

20 responses to “Welcome to My Caterpillar Ranch

  1. Nice post Catherine, and great photos. We and a few neighbors pitched in and planted a butterfly garden in St. Augustine, FL. Everyone really got into it, and it was great fun. And a butterfly emerging from the cocoon was a big event. It was amazing to me to see how much dill one caterpillar could eat. ~James

    • It is amazing how much one caterpillar can eat — and to think they thrive and grow to adulthood on a diet of what we consider garnish on our plates is even more amazing.

      I would love to see photos of your St. Augustine garden. We started a neighborhood butterfly garden last year. This year we have lots of flowering and host plants, but so far there are no caterpillars! I did see one tiny monarch caterpillar, but it was gone the next day. :( I’m photographing the garden as the summer progresses. I sure would like to include some photos of butterflies and caterpillars in this garden!

      Thanks for visiting my ranch. A sad note: The chrysalis I photographed was gone two days later, much too soon to have emerged. I wonder whether an animal or a bird ate it?

      Have you visited your St. Augustine neighborhood lately to see how the garden is doing? I wonder about the future of our garden after we three caretakers move away?

      • No Catherine, we haven’t been back to see the garden in SA, but in our experience, most gardens don’t last that long without care. And even with plants that do survive, the weeds will eventually choke them out. Also, in this case, a young, single guy moved in, and I’m sure his priorities were elsewhere. ~James

    • I’m hoping our neighborhood’s landscape committee can always look out for the butterfly garden when I move away some day. I’d like to get the garden certified as a Monarch Butterfly Waystation or at least meet the requirements. http://www.monarchwatch.org/waystations/

      • I’ve never heard of this program Catherine. It sounds really neat. And I’m sure that someone would volunteer to take care of the garden. By establishing the garden, you’ve already done all the heavy lifting. ~James

  2. You have amazing guests in your home. And how thoughtful you are to give them a lift from time to time. You’re a natural nature taxi! I like how you follow them and check on their progress, and the photographs are amazing. We always get a thrill seeing the monarchs in our neck of the woods, but I’ve never seen them in pre-monarch form.

  3. Beautiful creatures in a lovely garden.

  4. You’re truly an artist with your lens! I’d love for you to get with the Mrs and go on a photo safari is the mangroves and estuaries here in SW Florida.

  5. It is a completely fascinating process. Great job capturing it.

  6. As always, your photos are spectacular. We have had two red dragonflies in our backyard for two years now. Having read about their life cycle and watched a Youtube video, I now know it’s not the same “couple,” but perhaps the next generation that has returned to our small pond? My husband learned to recognize the nymphs which the dragonflies wash daily, so he was careful when cleaning the pond.
    Two weeks ago we realized all of the nymphs had climbed up plants and flown away leaving only their shells still attached to blades of grass. It was so cool – like a synchronized dance! I just wished you’d been here to capture this with your camera. I’m happy to let you sleep out next to the pond next year. :)

    • Thanks!

      I would love to be a human nymph hanging out near your pond.

      We have some black dragonflies, but we don’t have any bodies of water in our yard, so I haven’t seen any nymphs. I need to find out what these nymphs look like and learn more about dragonflies, which hang around a lot my garden more than do butterflies. Do dragonflies eat caterpillars? I caught a wheel bug eating one of my caterpillars. Horrible!

  7. A lovely set of photos! Interesting to follow a small animal like this around all day and document it!
    You got yourself a new follower!
    If you dont mind, visit my photoblogg:
    http://www.bjorntorngren.com
    I am from sweden and i have only been into photography for a year or so…
    I’d love to hear what you think.
    Thanks…

  8. A reblogué ceci sur Patrick Solereet a ajouté:
    Le mois du re-blog
    Je me suis amusé à lire vos blogs en entier et y découvert des pépites, je vous propose de les (re)découvrir ainsi que vos nouveautés.

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