Black Swallowtail Caterpillars

My new pet

Since nature is always changing, I try to document my garden by taking photographs of the lives spawned in the garden every day.   I miss some days since I don’t have much time in between watering the vegetables and running for the train to work.  Weekends are the best.  I can stalk insects and birds and take my time with the flowers and plants.

We used to have a lot of butterflies but I guess our volunteer pest control birds have been doing too good a job.  We have fewer butterflies this summer.  One day I took a photograph of a Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) caterpillar that was eating the Dill growing among the flowers.  I planned to get back to it after I finished my rounds in the garden and bring it inside to see its’ metamorphosis first hand.  It was gone when I got back.  A Catbird snacked on it I suspect.

On his private Dill, in our living room.

A week later I found two more caterpillars nibbling Dill on the other side of the garden.  I took some photos and left them alone.  But I checked on them every morning.  Two days later one of them was gone.  I decided that if I really wanted to see or document the metamorphosis of the Black Swallowtail I would have to keep it protected from the birds.   So, I put him on one of the Dill plants I still have in a pot and brought him in the house.  He became my pet.  He looks happier now and I want to believe it’s because there are more leaves for him to eat than the dill I moved him from.  He is twice the size that he was when I first saw him in the garden.  Bill thinks we may be the only people this side of a silk farm that have a caterpillar as a pet.  Not for me though.  My parents didn’t mind me having strange pets as long as I took care of them and caterpillars were among the guests in my room.

He'll become this beauty.

I can hardly wait to see him pupate, then become a beautiful Black Swallowtail butterfly.  According to Caterpillars of Eastern North America by David L. Wagner, the Black Swallowtail is becoming less common.  Deforestation nationwide, but especially in the East has caused a precipitous decline in habitat for them.  I’m glad I saved one.

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