Sunday, June 28, 2009

“Detective Joshua” and the Queen Butterfly


“Detective Joshua” decided to take on a new disguise. He is dressed in his monarch caterpillar apparel. On his head he is wearing one of my fuzzy hats. Today he is searching for monarch caterpillars.


While outside a new butterfly flew to my garden, a queen butterfly! Like monarchs they also lay eggs on milkweeds.

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Queen butterflies are a darker color and have more white spots on their wings. Even though these to butterflies look very similar their caterpillars look completely different.


After a lot of waiting I finally got a picture of a queen butterfly laying eggs on my milkweed. Look how it curls its abdomen to lay a tiny egg.

queen egg

Here is one egg the queen butterfly laid. It is so amazing how this tiny egg can grow to be a beautiful butterfly. I believe only an all powerful God could of created such a beautiful creation.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Genesis 1:1

Friday, June 26, 2009

My Mystery Caterpillar

We decided to name our mystery caterpillar, “Mannly the Wooly Mammoth”. We named it, Mannly, because our last name is Mann. It is a silly name but it just seems to fit. I hope its not a girl caterpillar!


Our neighbors have tons of dandelions growing in their backyard. They let me pick some to feed my caterpillar. As you can see, “Mannly the Mammoth” caterpillar has been enjoying eating them. Look how big he is now! My sister can actually hear it munching on the dandelions.



Mannly the Wooly Mammoth surprised “Detective Joshua”! Given these clues, can you help “Detective Joshua” determine what kind of caterpillar it is?

Monday, June 22, 2009

A caterpillar that looks like a bear?


My mom found this caterpillar crawling along the road. Look at how big it is compared to the size of my mom’s hand! I have been trying to figure out what kind of caterpillar it is and I think it might be a salt marsh caterpillar. This will be my very first moth to raise.


I put some Maple tree leaves and a dandelion inside to see which one it would eat. It went straight for the dandelion and is feasting on it. The one I put inside had a purple flower. These caterpillars are great to have because they eat weeds and are a pleasure to watch.


So many people pull out every weed they find hiding in their yard. Next time you are tempted to get out your weed killing spray consider who’s lunch you might be snatching. Some “weeds” serve as food for beautiful butterflies and some moths.


Saturday, June 20, 2009

More black swallowtails are in chrysalises

caterpillar 3

Did you guess what color chrysalis this black swallowtail would make?

IMG_0549 caterpillar 2 in chrysalis

Caterpillar 3 made a brown chrysalis. In the picture beside it is a caterpillar that made a green chrysalis right on its host plant stem. What great camouflage! If you look closely the chrysalis looks like an animal. My best friend said it looks like a bat.

caterpillar 4 caterpillar 4-1

My last caterpillar climbed to the top of my butterfly pavilion to make a chrysalis. It is brown just like caterpillar four’s chrysalis. 

Monday, June 15, 2009

My black swallowtail made its chrysalis


black swallowtail

The Black Swallowtail is a beautiful butterfly that is a frequent visitor to gardens especially if you are growing the herbs parsley, dill, or fennel. They have gregarious caterpillars that can munch down a parsley plant before you get the chance harvest it, but the way I see it is that by sacrificing parsley, you are helping nature. The rule of thump is to plant a lot! I went to a plant stand and bought two pots of parsley, but I was able to multiply those plants into 8 because there were 4 plants in each pot. That is a tip for plant buying. Sometimes there are more than one plant in a pot and you can just divide it to make more.

black swallowtail 11 days old (resized)

At 11 days old, my first Black Swallowtail caterpillar was ready to make its chrysalis. They can crawl several feet from the plant in search of a place to pupate. I had four caterpillars that I raised inside my pavilion. One caterpillar lived half of its life out in my garden box. They are more susceptible to predators and disease if left outside so the other three I raised in my pavilion since they were eggs. I took pictures of each one to document them.

 095-Black Swallowtail hanging (resized)

When the Black Swallowtail has found its pupation place, it will attach its hind legs to a plant with silk and then put a strand of silk around its waist.

chrysalis black swallowtail

Black Swallowtail chrysalises can be dark brown, light brown, or green. If the surroundings are dark colors they will make brown chrysalises and if the leaves were green, the chrysalises will be green. They can over winter in the chrysalis which is called diapause. I’ve had them stay in their chrysalis for 6 months or more!

Documentation of Caterpillars

caterpillar 1 caterpillar 1-1

The first caterpillar I showed at the beginning, started to wander in search of a place to make its chrysalis. The first clue that something was wrong was that the caterpillar did not make a silk girdle around itself. That caused it to hang straight down. The picture below shows the correct position.

The next day I examined the chrysalis and discovered that it was squishy. The caterpillar inside died. It was very upsetting to have to dispose of it after caring for it and raising it, but that is the cycle of nature. Bacteria is a threat to raising butterflies in nature or captivity.

Black swallowtail 2 preparing for chrysalis

My second caterpillar made its chrysalis on the parsley plant. First it attached its rear end to the stem. Then it spun a thin silk strand with its mouth and wrapped it around its midsection. The silk is so thin that is hard to see in the picture.


Look how well the chrysalis matches the parsley leaves! This provides camouflage and protection from predators. If you bother the chrysalis it will start to move! While I was taping the pupae to a stick it started to wiggle. You only imagine how surprised I was!

caterpillar 3-2

My third caterpillar made its chrysalis on the pavilion.

caterpillar 4

This is the last caterpillar in my pavilion. I found it eating outside in my garden box. I decided to take it in for fear a wasp might eat it. So now you’ve learned that if you see these caterpillars and think they are pests they are actually butterflies. Keep them in a protective cage and you will be able to see them turn into a butterfly!

Butterfly Book Cover

You can purchase my book to learn how to raise butterflies, butterfly life cycles, butterfly conservatory tours, as well as discovery pages. It is a great resource for teachers.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

A growing black swallowtail caterpillar

Here are some updates of my black swallowtail caterpillar. It has changed a lot since my last post.

black swallowtail caterpillar day 6 


Black Swallowtail caterpillar 1 week old

After shedding its skin it went from black, to white with black stripes.

Black Swallowtail 8 days old

black swallowtail 9 days old

Joshua wanted to hold the caterpillar so I tried to take it of it's food plant. That was a bad idea. It got angry with me and quickly revealed its orange osmeterium from its head. I have never smelled a smell like it! It was like a skunk spray, but with a unique smell. Joshua was able to hold the caterpillar, but he learned not to make it mad!

black swallowtail smiling face

On the rear end of black swallowtail caterpillars you can see a strange pattern that looks like a face! They use this pattern to scare off predators.


Out in my garden box a black swallowtail butterfly has been busy laying eggs on my parsley. I counted about 75 caterpillars! It was very hard to count them since there were so many. Here is a picture of one leaf covered in caterpillars. The small black creatures are the caterpillars. If those caterpillars use their smelly osmeterium on predators I will end up with a lot of caterpillars on one food plant.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Caterpillar Predators and Diseases

While raising caterpillars I have learned a lot about the importance of predators. Without them we would have millions of diseased butterflies flying around. In nature only the fastest and healthiest caterpillars make it to adults. I think only 2 or 3% of butterfly eggs laid survive to adulthood.


I have had Monarch butterflies lay hundreds of eggs in my garden, but have not found one caterpillar make it to a butterfly. With so many wasps attracted to my milkweeds they quickly spot the caterpillars for lunch. I’ve found small monarch hiding in my parsley and other bushy plants, but somehow the wasps manage to find them.


This lizard stays around my garden in wait of a tasty caterpillar.


The best solution for avoiding these predators is to keep the caterpillars protected in an enclosure. If you want to purchase a smaller size cage to raise caterpillars the best place is Small netted containers sell for as low as $10 dollars. I have had great success with using enclosures. Out of 70 eggs about 60 emerged as healthy butterflies. Around ten percent died from a disease called OE.

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 Ophryocystis elektroscirrha (OE) is a small parasite that infects only monarch and queen butterflies. A female butterfly with OE can transfer an OE spore to its eggs. When the egg has an OE spore on it, it will ingest it when eating the egg shell. The only way to destroy the parasite is to clean the eggs with a bleach solution. To learn more about OE and how to clean eggs go to

Right now I am trying to learn more about OE. I selected four of my monarchs that appeared to be OE free. I kept them in my pavilion ( with nectar and fruit to drink ) until they laid eggs on my milkweeds. Now that the eggs have hatched I am watching the caterpillars to see if they get OE or if they all stay healthy. If the caterpillars have OE they will start to develop dirt like spots on their bodies when older.


Friday, June 5, 2009

Black Swallowtail egg has hatched!

Black Swallowtail egg

Here is one egg we found that had just been laid when I purchased my parsley. It hasn’t hatched yet, but I found another black swallowtail egg that has hatched. I have been taking pictures each day so I can track its growth.

Black Swallowtail caterpillar day 1

When young, black swallowtail caterpillars look like bird droppings. When searching the leaves it took me a little while to realize that this was a caterpillar! The first clue I had was the tiny hole in the leaf. Second, was it moved when I tickled its back legs. I have  observed that they only eat at night when young.

Black Swallowtail Caterpiller day 2

The next day I found it in the exact same spot, but I found more chew marks on the leaf. I discovered that they will eat curled and flat leaved parsley. The curled leaved provides better hiding though.

Black Swallowtail day 3

You can still see the tiny hole it made when it first hatched.

Black Swallowtail caterpillar day 4 

Today I noticed small orange spikes along the caterpillars back.

Since I am raising this caterpillar inside my pavilion It will have a much greater chance of survival. I have found out how well they do when protected! I am now being more careful with how many eggs I raise in my pavilion. I am working on a post about predators and diseases that attack caterpillars. I will probably post it in a few days.

Outside in my garden box I have another parsley plant. I discovered several black swallowtail eggs on it. I shouldn’t have to worry about not having enough caterpillars!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Eastern Black Swallowtail Butterfly

My mom took me for a visit to South Seminole Farm & Nursery where I bought a host plant for the Eastern Black Swallowtail. I was able to watch it as it laid tiny eggs on the leaves of it’s host plant.


By looking at this picture you can see how fast Black Swallowtails move their wings. It took a bit of waiting before it finally stopped long enough for me to take a picture! This butterfly has landed on a Fennel plant to lay eggs.

dill plants parsley

Some gardeners think of the Black Swallowtail caterpillar as a pest because they feast on certain herbs. But I grow my herbs for these butterflies to lay eggs on! If you would like Black Swallowtails in your garden plant either parsley, dill, fennel, or Queen’s Anne’s lace. Just make sure no Bt or any other pesticide has been sprayed on your herbs and you will soon have some munching caterpillars in your garden.

Black Swallowtail egg

Look how tiny the Black Swallowtail’s egg is compared to my finger! It is so amazing how this tiny egg will grow into a beautiful butterfly. If this egg safely hatches, I will post pictures of the caterpillar as it grows. I have been praying each night that I would be able to raise a Black Swallowtail Butterfly from egg to chrysalis and God is answering my prayers!