Sneak peak at a swallowtail

24 Oct

One of the most fascinating roles you can take in the garden is that of an observer.  To stumble upon life progressing in a garden habitat and be able to just watch it happen is…awesome.  DSC00388

DSC00391 We have a recent influx of black swallowtail caterpillars on our fennel plants.  It started with a few but has now ballooned to over 30+ caterpillars munching away on the plants, happily growing bigger and bigger.  The black swallowtail caterpillar moves through 4-5 instars, the name for stages of development, before entering into the pupa stage and changing into butterflies. During each instar, the caterpillar molts its exoskeleton, which begins to change its appearance.

We have watched them go through their 1st and 2nd instar phases where they are orange and black with small white bands around the middle and little spikes.

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Third instar they begin developing different color patterns with white, black and yellow. Polka dots, stripes.   The spikes start to minimize. . 

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After that they just get bigger and more beautiful as they go through their third, fourth and fifth (final) instar.  After that, they will attach themselves in a safe place with their silk string and begin to  molt into a chrysalis where they will remain until ready to emerge as a butterfly. 

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It is truly a special experience to be able to share this with the students at our school and for them to feel the connection that they built the habitat that now supports such a beautiful life cycle.  They’ll never look at another butterfly the same way again. 

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