Thursday, September 10, 2009

Cats in the Cradle

I am, admittedly, not much of a cook. I enjoy a well-seasoned meal, but I'm not very good at creating it. So, the herbs I grow in my garden are seldom destined for the dinner table - at least, not a human dinner table.

A Black Swallowtail butterfly has been using my parsley patch as her own personal nursery, which is fine by me, because that's exactly why I planted it in the first place. They have some of the prettiest of eggs - they look like tiny pearls. They're white at first, and darken to look like black pearls just before the caterpillar emerges.

These caterpillars are especially interesting because they will go through so many visual changes before they make the final change to butterfly. As a caterpillar grows, it sheds its skin (molts) a number of times. The stage between each molt is called an instar. These young caterpillars hatched late yesterday or early today and are in their first instar. The second and third instars are slightly different, with reddish-orange spikes, although they retain the white stripe in the middle.

The fourth instar, however, is significantly different. I'm raising some black swallowtail caterpillars inside, and one reached the fourth instar today:
He'll continue to grow and will molt again into the fifth instar, which is again very different. I'll try to catch a picture of this instar before he pupates.

Here's a comparison of a newly-hatched black swallowtail caterpillar in its first instar and a week-old caterpillar in the fourth instar, side-by-side:

All in all, I can't really think of a better use for parsley than feeding black swallowtail caterpillars. Their caterpillar changes are fascinating to watch, and their butterflies are of course beyond lovely. I'm so pleased that My Florida Backyard is able to part of the complete life cycle of these wonderful creatures.

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