Raising Black Swallowtail Butterflies
A couple of summer’s ago I discovered tiny caterpillars on a piece of dill I had picked from my garden. After a bit of research, I learned that they were Black Swallowtail Butterfly larvae and since my two year old was fascinated, I decided to raise them. Three years later, raising butterflies has become a favorite summer tradition of ours.
It is important that you have plenty of food for your caterpillars because they always eat much more than you expect. We find our caterpillars on the same dill plant every summer but we have also fed them fennel and parsley once our dill source was depleted. If you run out of the fresh plants and have to purchase food, make sure it is organic and your best bet would be to buy a live plant from a farmers market.
This is what they look like when you first spot them.
For about 12 days your caterpillars will mostly just eat and poop. In between, they will rest and shed their skin a few times until the finally look like this.
Once they get to this stage, you will need to move them into an enclosed cage because they will do a lot of traveling while they are looking for a good spot to make their chrysalis. Inside of the cage you should have several strong branches situated at angles and plenty of food for their final feast. In the past, we used a small pop up bug house but this year we had 5 caterpillars so we made a cage out of metal mesh garbage can with a book on top.
They always, always make their chrysalis while we are sleeping no matter how hard I try to catch them. Sometimes the chrysalis will be brown and sometimes it is green depending on where they settle in.
Now comes the waiting game…generally, it takes 14 days before they emerge. Make sure you are keeping your eye on them as you get close to the date. Our butterflies have always emerged in the morning around breakfast and this is what the chrysalis looks like right before the butterfly comes out.
After the come out, they need some time to let their wings dry which takes about an hour and then they are ready to fly!
This year we found our caterpillars in June but usually we find them in late August so there is still time for you to raise Black Swallowtail Butterflies with your family this summer. Just keep your eye on the dill, fennel and parsley plants!
For more detailed information on raising butterflies, check out this site - raisingbutterflies.org