Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Catchin' Caterpillars

Hello readers!  I know I was gone for a long week that spanned four (!) entries, but I needed the time off.  Being a stay-at-home-mom has stresses I never encountered in my working days, and sometimes they are much worse for the fact that there is no escape.  But I'm not going into that, so my lips are zipped.

When I checked on my herbs after a week of being gone, I found three caterpillars on my dill.  Now, I know from last year that these particular caterpillars are those of the Black Swallowtail butterfly, they have three or four distinct growth points before the chrysalis stage, they eat a LOT, and. . . . it is fascinating to watch this entire process.

These caterpillars eat plants from the parsley family, which can include curly and Italian flat leaf parsley, carrot, celery, dill, and Queen Anne's Lace.  Some sources also include Rue in the list.

I say three or four growth points because the caterpillars start as small little things that look like a bird dropping. . . 
1st caterpillar stage
And grow into fat lengths of black-striped green. . .
Final caterpillar stage
But in between, the caterpillar changes.  I have seen them shed their skin (and eat it) from the bird-poo stage into another bird-poo stage that is just bigger with a bit more orange or yellow.  But I have also seen them go directly into a black-and-yellow or black-and-orange striped caterpillar that still has its baby spikes (as the top caterpillar in the photo below).
3 stages
As they grow, the spikes get smaller until they are completely gone, and the caterpillar is left looking smooth.

They eat a lot when they're smaller, but boy do they chow down when they get to the final stage before becoming a chrysalis.  They have to eat like a bear in order to pack in calories to fatten up for the great transformation.  

Once they are done munching, it's on to the chrysalis phase.  (Next week I shall post about this fascinating process, but I'm still looking for the video I took.)

Until then, check your herbs for a very cool science project for your kids. 

Happy caterpillar hunting!


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