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Raising swallowtails!

August 13th, 2016 at 04:27 am

I'm so excited.

Last night I watered all my potted plants, as I do every evening, and this is what I saw:

Black swallowtail butterfly caterpillars!

And then I noticed these:

Earlier "instars," I think, of the same black swallowtail butterfly caterpillar.

So I have 2 of the larger caterpillars (funny I never saw them even though I water the parsley daily) and I think 4 of the smaller caterpillars.

I was going to just let them be and take pix of their development, but after reading online about the very high mortality rate of caterpillars due to predators like birds and those disgusting parasitic wasps, I decided to do better.

I went online looking for small glass aquariums I could put the caterpillars in with a screened top to protect them and yet be able to see what's going on. Petco has these ridiculous prices of hundreds of dollars on fancy aquarium "kits." The cheapest I could find was about $60, but I don't need all the bells and whistles and I really can't be spending much being out of work right now. Surely I could find a plain glass rectangular aquarium.

I tried Pet Choice and the woman who answered IMMEDIATELY suggested I try Petco becus she thought they were having their "$1 per gallon" aquarium sale. (They weren't.) I mean, she went on and on about how I should go to Petco. I actually had to prod her to tell me their lowest price anyway. It was $15 for the aquarium and another $15 if I wanted to buy a screened cover. But anyway,that woman is hurting sales at Pet Choice.

I tried a few other local pet stores but didn't do much better. Then I decided to try Craig's List and lo and behold, I actually found someone about 35 minutes away who was selling both a small and large sized aquarium. I called him up and asked for the small one, for just $8, which should do just fine. He's supposed to call me this afternoon as he's heading for an adjacent town to me and can meet me at the library parking lot then. Hooray on saving money!

For the time being, until I get the aquarium later in the day, i don't want to take any chances with natural preduators. I was thinking about it when I went to bed last night and woke up with a viable solution. (Yes, I tend to get a little obssessive once I'm interested in something.) At around 7 am i walked out back to my tool shed and retrieved one of my smaller tomato plant hoops. I put that over the small pot of parsley with the caterpillars and then draped the bird netting over the hoop to encase and protect the caterpillars until I get the aquarium set up later today.

Next I'll need to figure out the top. I am not at all "handy." Again, don't want to spend anything if I can avoid it. I do have a small piece of bird netting but I'm not sure if wasps could get through that. Screening would be better and I may end up at hardware store to see if they'd sell me just a small piece.If I could find the right size wood to cut for the border, even on just the 2 ends, I could staple gun the screen to the wood edges. I was thinking of buying a wood yardstick and the cutting it with my bow saw for just the 2 ends.

After that I'll need to call around for ORGANIC parsley, as the small plant I have won't be nearly enough. It must be organic or they could die. I'll try Caraluzzi's grocery store first and they're right around the corner.

One thing I'm concerned about is whether or not if I'm seeing caterpillars now whether they'll pupate and become butterflies this late in the season or want to overwinter. I read one person's account online that some will "hatch" in late August while others won't.

I'd rather not be responsible for keeping the chrysalises alive over winter, as they could dry out or alternatively, have mold issues if it's too damp, so it's a bit iffy. And of course I would love to see them emerge this summer.

Anyway, it's kind of exciting. I've always been an amateur naturalist.

I had actually purchased the parsley back in May with the hopes of attracting butterfly caterpillars. I don't really use the parsley in cooking but am much more interested in watching the caterpillars develop.

3 Responses to “Raising swallowtails!”

  1. Turtle Lover Says:

    i hope more photos are to come of your chrysalis adventures :-)

  2. Carol Says:

    You remind me of when we were kids. We also used those big restaurant sized mayonnaise jars, I think. Anyhow we got a preying mantis to hatch. Good memories. My daughter and I are each cultivating patches of milkweed...good luck!

  3. littlegopher Says:

    Maybe a local garden center may know of someone who would "winter" your caterpillar/pupa, should you get to that point...many of our garden stores near where I live offer classes and lectures on attracting and keeping butterflies and other beneficial insects safe in our gardens. What a treat to have one - good luck!!

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