Friday, July 27, 2012

Swallowtail butterflies – center stage

There are times that I get pretty obsessed with the wildlife in my yard. The first year that hummingbirds started hanging around, I would sit on the front porch for extended periods of time, with my camera on a tripod, waiting to get the perfect photos of the little fluttering jewels. I took thousands of photos. And although I never did grow tired of seeing the hummingbirds (and, hopefully, never will) I did quit taking so many photos of them. After all, I hardly have time to look through the photos, much less do anything else with them.

I get the same way whenever any new creature comes on the scene, and since we garden for wildlife, our photo-ops are pretty common.

My most recent garden obsession is the swallowtail caterpillars that are on some of our herb plants. Swallowtails laid eggs on our dill and fennel plants, and most of them were soon quickly devoured by some visiting wasps. I haven’t seen the wasps in awhile, and the caterpillars are again taking over those plants. But even more caterpillars are on the potted parsley plant that is right outside our front door. This has given me a great opportunity to watch much of the caterpillar/butterfly lifecycle, but still not enough to figure out what is happening to most of the caterpillars.

At any given time, there appear to be close to 100 caterpillars in various growth stages. They get huge, and although a few end up going to chrysalis, they don’t all appear to be making it to that stage – or at least I can’t figure out where they are going. Someday I am going to invest in one of those “critter cams” so I can keep an eye on my critters from a distance.

The video at the top of this post is fairly long, but it shows how a caterpillar changes to chrysalis. I always thought that the chrysalis was formed OVER the striped caterpillar skin, but this video clearly shows that the caterpillar sheds its skin as it turns into a chrysalis.

Gardening for wildlife is a great way to learn more about the “critters” that we can protect by practicing eco-friendly landscaping.

If you don’t have butterflies in your own garden, be sure and stop by a butterfly garden at one of the local botanical gardens such as Brookside Gardens Wings of Fancy Butterfly and Caterpillar Exhibit or the Butterfly Habitat Garden at the Smithsonian. **Note: Always check before visiting any of the local butterfly gardens, as they are sometimes closed due to weather, including extreme heat.

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