Raising BLACK SWALLOWTAILS
How to Care for a Black Swallowtail Caterpillar
In late spring, and again in late summer and early fall, black swallowtail caterpillars appear in backyards and fields everywhere. If you know where to look, you can find these lovely little Black Swallowtail Caterpillars, and caring for them until they become butterflies is easy and fun!
Look for black swallowtail caterpillars.They have distinctive black, yellow, and green striping and can be found around plants such as parsley, fennel, dill, and Queen Anne's lace. Plant a small herb garden in your yard, and start checking it in late summer! The caterpillars can be found on any part of the plant, including the stems.
- It's easy to tell the sexes apart! Males will have yellow spots/stripes, while females will have blue. Both equally beautiful!
Catch a caterpillar.Try to catch your little guy by snipping off whatever section of the plant he's sitting on, rather than trying to pull him off with your fingers. Not only do these guys have great grip, and can be very difficult to pull off, but they emit a smelly odor as a defense mechanism when they're handled!
Prepare a home.Any glass jar or small plastic container will work fine for your temporary pet! Try to pick something that has enough height for a few small twigs and sticks, which will later be used by the caterpillars to hang their chrysalis/cocoon.
- There's no need for substrate on the bottom of the container; if you want some because it looks nice, that's totally up to you.
Keep your little guy fed.All he will need is a fresh, daily supply of his food plant (whatever plant you found him on). A small handful each day is plenty. You do not need to give him any water or mist his environment, but if you feel better giving it a spritz every few days, it certainly won't hurt him. Your growing, hungry caterpillar will happily eat... and poop. A lot. Make sure you dump the poop out each day to avoid a smelly mess.
Watch for signs of cocoon readiness.You'll know your little buddy is getting ready to build his cocoon when he becomes rather still for a day or two, and then one day you'll notice he's in a rather weird position on one of his twigs, sort of like a candy cane, or an upside down "J". Leave him alone at this point and stop feeding.
- Keep an eye on him, though, because you'll get to witness the fascinating progress of his cocoon-making! At first just a few silky strands to anchor him to his stick or twig, but in a few days, he'll suddenly lookverydifferent, like a little brown leaf, all closed up.
Observe his progress and wait for him to emerge.It generally takes a few weeks for him to emerge as a butterfly. Leave him alone for several hours at least, so that his wings can fully inflate and strengthen for flight. Touching or disturbing him too soon can be a death sentence. Once his wings are wide open, rigid, and you can see him slowly flapping them open and closed, he's ready to emerge!
Be careful in letting him go.Don't just dump him out of the container, just in case he's not quite ready to fly. Many times, you can gently ease him onto your hand (but beverycareful tonottouch his wings!) and enjoy the thrill of holding one of the most beautiful butterflies in the world for a few moments! When he's ready, he'll take off on his own. If you can't hold him until then, gently guide him onto a bush or shrub where he can rest until he's ready to go.
- Some people choose to keep the butterflies as pets as well, but since their life cycle is so brief after hatching (2-4 weeks), it's recommended to let them experience the natural freedom they were meant to have.
QuestionI have 6 black swallowtail caterpillars in a container. They ate all of my parsley and started on basil. I am going to feed them parsley and hope they turn into butterflies. I would let them eat the basil, but found no info on whether they should or not - is this OK?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerIf your caterpillars are eating the basil, it is a high chance that it's fine. Most caterpillars would rather die of hunger than eat an unknown plant.Thanks!
QuestionI had 8 black swallowtail caterpillars in my fennel yesterday. This morning there were only three, and now, none. Where did they go? Do they travel to pupate? I'm worried.wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerThere can be many factor a to why they have disappeared. 1. Predators could have found them to dine on. 2. They could have fallen from the fennel and found a new host plant to munch on. 3. Depending on the stage they are in, they could have searched out a place to form their chrysalis.Thanks!
QuestionYesterday I had 8 black swallowtail caterpillars on my fennel. Today, there are only 3! Where did they go?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerThey could have gone to another place in your garden or gotten eaten by some other animal. The possibilities are endless.Thanks!
QuestionHi I found two of these guys in some parsley on my counter. Can I release them outside?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYes. Take them to a nice patch of grass and release them.Thanks!
QuestionWhat should I feed the caterpillar?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerLeafy greens. You can feed leaves from the garden as long as you're sure they have not been treated with pesticides.Thanks!
QuestionI found a caterpillar in my office. He looks very lethargic and appears to only have one antenna. What should I do when I take him home, especially when it gets chilly at night?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYou should put him in a container with holes in the top (there are many bug containers available for purchase at you local dollar store). To make him more at home, put lots of little twigs and secure them to the side to let the caterpillar climb. Decorate the habitat with nonpoisonous, edible leaves that will serve double-duty in feeding the caterpillar and making it look like home. As for the cold, you could place him in the warmest place in the house.Thanks!
QuestionWe covered the plant our caterpillar is eating from with blueberry netting so the birds don't eat him. Will he be able to form a cocoon there on the plant? Are we trapping him in?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYou could take of the piece of the plant off the stem and take him inside, set up a little habitat, and keep him until a cocoon forms and he turns into a butterfly. Most likely he feels trapped and stressed, and will eventually die.Thanks!
QuestionIt's September 21st and there is a black swallowtail caterpillar on my parsley. Is it too late in the year to take it in and raise it to a butterfly?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerNo. If it's out there, it will pupate, no matter what time of year it is.Thanks!
- If you catch your caterpillar late in the season, he may stay in his cocoon all through the winter. Don't mistake him for being dead! Simply keep the cocoon in the jar until spring, and put it somewhere where the whole family can keep an eye on it, so you won't miss the emergence of the butterfly!
- It is perfectly fine to keep multiple caterpillars in the same container. Just make sure they're getting enough food, and they all have a stick or twig for hanging their own cocoons. You may want to remove each one as it goes into its cocoon, place it in an empty jar (on its stick!) and then date the jar, so you know when to expect it to hatch, or possibly winter it until spring.
Video: Raising a Black Swallowtail Butterfly From Caterpillar to Butterfly.
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