Sunday, August 4, 2013

What is Eating my Parsley? Journal of the Black Swallowtail Butterfly

Black Swallowtail caterpillar

The Black Swallowtail butterfly is one that has often been misunderstood and sadly mistaken as a pest. You may have heard it referred to as the parsley worm, but that name does not do justice to the beautiful butterfly it will become. Yes, I know that it is frustrating as a gardener or farmer to come out to see your parsley ravished by caterpillars, but I actually grow it specifically for these butterflies. If you are experiencing this, I suggest setting aside some plants for the butterflies and some for yourself. You can transfer the caterpillars to the plants you’ve designated for them and then you can have the best of both worlds! What a tragedy to kill these beautiful creatures just to have a garnish for our culinary dishes.

Black Swallowtail host plants: Parsley, dill, fennel, Queen Anne’s Lace, Rue, and sometimes even cilantro and carrot leaves.

Journal of the Black Swallowtail Butterfly’s Life

Female black swallowtail

The arrows are pointing to the spots that resemble eyes. These are a defense mechanism. The bird may mistake these for eyes and snap at them instead of the butterfly’s head. A life saving tactic for the butterfly. If you see a butterfly’s wing that has a beak sized slice missing from the wing, that is probably the culprit.

Male Black Swallowtail  

The male and female Black Swallowtail are different. I recently had a friend ask how to tell them apart. Well, the female has reduced yellow postmedian band and an increased blue band on the hindwings. The differentiation is clearly visible when comparing the photos.

Caterpillars eating parsleyButterfly castle

The Black Swallowtail butterflies can really be a hassle to garden nurseries and farmers. I gladly collected the Black Swallowtail caterpillars off the parsley at the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle Farm. I took all of them except a few baby ones. I have a soft spot for butterflies.

You can buy butterfly enclosures called butterfly castles at They also give away free Milkweed seeds if you want to help the Monarch butterflies.

Black Swallowtail egg

The Black Swallowtail egg is so tiny. I’ve developed an eye for spotting butterfly caterpillar eggs. It reminds me of a tiny pearl and it really is a treasure.

Black Swallowtail caterpillar day 1  

This caterpillar is one day old. Below are the previous blog entries I’ve done to chronological the Black Swallowtail’s complete life cycle.

Egg – Day 4

Day 6 – 9 

Making a Chrysalis

Caterpillar osterium

Beware of this orange filament! It releases a pungent odor when the caterpillar is bothered. If you touch it or arouse the caterpillar, it will arch back and try to smear it on you which will leave a rather unpleasant smell. If you wish to move them to a different branch, I suggest pinching off the leaf at the stem and then moving it while it is still of the leaf.

black swallowtail frowning face

This is another defense. On the backside of the caterpillar is what I think looks like a frowning face. As it was with the fake eye spots on the butterfly, it is better for the predator to strike the caterpillar’s rear end than it’s head.

 Black Swallowtail hanging  
Arrows point to where the caterpillar has spun silk by which to attach itself.

I had a hard time finding out how long the Black Swallowtail stays in the caterpillar stage. At my previous home in Orlando (with all that heat) the caterpillar stage lasted 11 days. In the cooler weather it will take longer because the caterpillar’s body begins to slow down. Now for the chrysalis, that can take between 2 – 3 weeks or it may even overwinter. Some butterfly raisers purposefully trigger overwintering by putting the chrysalis in the refrigerator for a week.

Green chrysalis brown chrysalises 

An interesting fact is that the last color in nature the caterpillar sees is the color its chrysalis will be (no, reds or blues though. lol.)  If it is near green leaves in the spring it will be green, but in the fall with the dying leaves it will be brown. The brown chrysalises, I had kept in a darker spot and this replicated the fall conditions. Don’t get too worried if a month or so goes by and they don’t come out. Unless the chrysalis gets squishy and diseased, it is overwintering and will come out in spring.

 Butterfly ready to emerge

The final revealing has come! The Black Swallowtail has just an hour before it will emerge. The chrysalis has become transparent so you can see its wings. I hope now you will agree that the “parsley worm” is worth keeping.

Watch all my butterfly videos on my Elizabeth’s Secret Garden youtube channel 

Please support my work and buy my butterfly book

book cover

My book describes the life cycles of 10 different common butterfly species. It takes you through the stages from egg to butterfly. Want to help butterflies in your area? My book will teach you how to start your own butterfly nursery. It contains butterfly garden and conservatory tours. The pictures are colorful and help to bring this book to life. It also has discovery pages with facts. It is loved by adults and I’ve had teachers purchase it.

Here are what some of my butterfly book fans have said;

Elizabeth's book opens the doors to the mysterious and transformational life of the butterfly. With beautiful pictures, diagrams and discussion she educates and inspires you to the point that you want to build your I did. I just released my 60th monarch on mothers day. I have given.her book as gifts to friends age five to eighty, and they all love it. Kudos to you Elizabeth. – Sheila

Elizabeth's Garden was written by a young woman whose passion for butterflies comes through on every page. Whether you are interested in raising butterflies, creating a butterfly garden, or just love these beautiful creatures, this book is for you. My first grade students were enthralled with the pictures and the information found in this book. It helped us to begin to create a butterfly garden at our school. – Susan

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