The Coming of the Swallowtails

Black Swallowtail
She glided in and briefly rested on the golden fennel. Her wings fluttered as she hesitated on one spike before flitting to another. Then she flew to the butterfly bush, moving deliberately from one tiny petal to the next drinking in nectar before she swept away as quickly as she had come.

I checked the fennel and felt as happy as if I were a grandparent. Three eggs had been deposited. Tiny and pearl-like, they contrast clearly with the bronze spikes. This is is what we’ve been working for.

We planted parsley first and got some traffic. But the fennel has been a great addition. We’re trying to attract butterflies to a backyard garden so we’re planting those flowers and herbs that provide food and nesting. And so far, we’ve been successful with swallowtails, which we’ve concentrated on because they’re prevalent in our part of the state. Three additional eggs were laid the next day so we’re now carefully watching six caterpillars.

At first they are tiny specks so small they’re barely visible. But they develop quickly. After a couple of days they look a bit like bird droppings. (Which is a nice camouflage, when you think about it.)

They gradually develop a colorful exoskeleton that blends in well with the green parsley but isn’t so complementary to the bronze colors of the fennel.

Upon emerging from the egg they start eating. They are voracious eaters. Last week this guy (or gal, how can you tell?) ate a whole fennel plant. We added to our plantings because six eaters will clean our garden.

After they eat their fill they find a place to attach and go into the chrysalis stage. Then they emerge looking like this.

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