Tuesday, July 2, 2013

New friends

 During elementary school I was known as "the bug lady" because my favorite recess activity was collecting ladybugs on the playground. Sometimes I even brought them home and tried to keep them in improvised terrariums, with varying degrees of success. These days I'm a bit more squeamish when it comes to insects, but caterpillars are just cute enough for me to tolerate. Well, as long as they're not too big or hairy and don't have weird bulbous heads, anyway. 

I left some dill in my garden even after it bolted, because I had heard that swallowtails were attracted to flowering dill and might lay their eggs on it. Yesterday I found a pair of brightly colored caterpillars eating not the dill, but the flowers of a pitiful-looking second year parsley plant that I hadn't bothered to pull up. 

By the evening they had eaten almost all of it, so I moved the pot next to my raised bed and they quickly moved on to the dill.

I did some research this morning and found out that they are probably black swallowtail larvae, in one of their last stages or "instars" and close to pupating. I also learned that they are easy to keep indoors as long as you can supply adequate food (fresh dill, parsley, or fennel).

 I moved the first caterpillar into his new home, a five gallon aquarium with a live dill plant from my Aerogarden and some branches to hang from when he eventually forms a chrysalis. My photos will no longer be quite as nice, but at least my new friends will be protected from wasps and other critters that might harm them. I'm still waiting for the second caterpillar to move onto a stem that's easy to cut and transport- I may not mind looking at caterpillars, but there's no way I'm going to touch them.

With a little luck I'll have some chrysalis photos to post soon!