Black Swallowtail Caterpillar

Photo by Gayla Trail  All Rights Reserved

Over the weekend I discovered that we’ve been hosting a Black Swallowtail buttery caterpillar (Papilio polyxenes) on a patch of dill I have growing in a pot on the roof. We have so much dill, losing a plant or two to this little guy/gal is not a burden. I worried the caterpillar might transfer over to the ‘Red Malabar’ spinach growing nearby and start eating that, but thankfully this species only has eyes (or mouth parts) for Umbelliferae family plants such as dill, parsley, ‘Bronze’ fennel, and Queen Anne’s lace.

Maybe we’ll get lucky and see our caterpillar through to the chrysalis stage. We’ll play this song for it when it emerges.

I love these unexpected educations in nature that come from growing a garden. Even a pot on a roof can bring about these sorts of surprises.

UPDATE: Make that two! I just found a second, bigger caterpillar in another pot of dill. I think they need names.

Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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13 thoughts on “Black Swallowtail Caterpillar

  1. I so love the attitude of sharing the produce with the critters. The bird activity in my kitchen garden is always entertaining, and butterflies also spend a lot of time there. Recently, a rabbit has been jumping through a hole in the fence and munching away… amazingly, on dandelions. This morning it was at the end of my lettuce and spinach row chomping on the biggest dandelion in the garden. I’m happy to plant a little extra if it’ll make the local critters happy (and they leave some for me).

  2. Luckily caterpillars evolve quickly into pupa… otherwise leafy vegetables will end up as stem and stalk! That caterpillar is colourful indeed. ~bangchik

  3. I get dozens of black swallowtail caterpillars every year and have never lost a plant to them. They are considerate enough to pick dill and parsley as their favorites, which always grow more than fast enough to keep up with their appetites (and mine).

  4. I love that, despite your extensive experience and countless observations of the natural world, you still get a thrill from unexpected surprises like this. Me too.

    I bought a few plants this weekend & took great delight in the fact that after I brought them home I discovered an all red ladybug on one. At least I didn’t notice any spots. Now I’m curious & seeking education on Coccinellidae.

    Handsome creature. I do hope you get to see the butterfly stage.

  5. Wow – we don’t tend to get caterpillars like that in the UK, instead we get excessive numbers of pale green cabbage white caterpillars that destroy a brassica in ten minutes (or is that just me? I don’t seem able to live in harmony with them, that’s for sure).

    If we’re offering up names, I vote for Flora and Fauna!

  6. All Seasons Gardener: We get those too. I picked legions of currant worms off of my gooseberry just the other day….

    I definitely do not live in harmony with those dudes.

    Kris Mo: Sid and Nancy if they destroy the plants.

  7. This reminds me that I have to look out for them. They eat my parsley faster that I can.

  8. This reminds me that I have to look out for them. Last year they ate my parsley faster than I can use them

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