22 April 2014

The Black Swallowtail Dilemma

 {Black Swallowtail Egg}

Remember that Black Swallowtail who sweetly visited my yard recently?  Yesterday, I figured out why.  (Looking back at that photo, I now see a hint of the dilemma to come, right there under my nose the whole time!!)  Here's what I wrote, in great distress, to my friend who loves butterflies and raised some herself one year

"We have a terrible dilemma on our hands.

"Our dill patch has been doing really well this spring.  I've been so excited about it, because I love dill, and it is hard to find it in the grocery stores.  I picture containers and containers full of my very own dried dill, to use in all my favorite things.

"And we have been delighted to notice a few black swallowtails visiting our yard.  Such beautiful butterflies!  Graceful creatures to be sure, with their yellow and blue spots lining their backs...

{Black Swallowtail Stage 1 Instars}

"Well, we found caterpillars on the dill plants today, and with a little help from Google, we've ascertained that dill plants are indeed a common egg host for black swallowtail butterflies, and the little guys on the leaves are indeed first-stage black swallowtail infants.

"Hence the dilemma.

"Do we sacrifice the dill, or the butterflies?!  Neither choice seems like the best one.  :(

"Perhaps you can lend your sympathy, even if you don't have advice."

{Displaced Black Swallowtail Stage 1 Instar}

Of course, we have several possible solutions to this dilemma.  We could save the dill at all costs, no matter what the cost to the butterfly world.  We could save the caterpillars, no matter what the cost to our garden.  We could bring them all--or some of them--inside, and feed them with store-bought parsley (their favorite host plants include carrots, dill, parsley, and the rue plant) until they mature.

Here's what I've done thus far.

1.  Take photos.  I might as well document the downfall of my best dill patch ever miracle of the butterflies.
2.  Displace a few of the hungry little infants to our parsley plants which are about to go to seed anyway, since we have seven more teenage parsley plants coming along nicely to replace them....hence saving a few of the dill leaves for us?  Maybe?
3.  Show the yellow eggs and the instars/caterpillars to my piano students.  Bonus education.
4.  Harvest as many dill leaves as I can find that don't already have eggs or infants on them (at least, as many as I can find before being devoured by mosquitoes).  Put them in the Garden Master dehydrator, and know that at least we'll enjoy a small part of the bounty.
5.  Order more dill seeds while Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds is offering free shipping for Earth Day.  We're almost out, and I was relying on this crop to replace my seed collection...but I don't know if I'll get any seeds post butterfly life cycle.

We still don't know for sure if we'll leave them all in the garden, or if we'll try to find some wild host plants and displace some or all of them, or bring some indoors, but if you're interested in more information about the Black Swallowtail life cycle, or raising some yourself indoors, check out these two resources:

Life Cycle of the Black Swallowtail
Raise Black Swallowtail Butterflies Indoors

And do tell:  What would YOU do if you were in my shoes?


  1. If I were in your shoes, I would bring them all inside and feed them little bits of parselely and dill and whatnot, but not enough to lose my crop. And then I'd have a great deal of fun watching their whole life-cycle, and showing them to your piano students each week (at no risk to your garden), and then I'd take them to a distant place where they can feed on someone else's dill patch.

    1. Perhaps I need to get creative about the kinds of containers we have on hand that could be used in such an endeavor. :)

  2. Did you get more dill ordered? I ordered a few more kinds of melon seeds. They all looked so delicious. I might turn my flower garden into a melon patch so I can eat more.

    1. Yes! I did order more dill. Depending on how much the caterpillars eat, I may still get a bit of a harvest and some seeds out of this crop. We'll see! But at least I'm prepared either way. :)

      More melons are always a good thing! I think I will explore making some melon sorbets this summer...if they don't disappear before I can get them in the blender or the freezer!

  3. Wow, what a dilemma indeed! I don't know I think I'd probably remove the eggs and enjoy the dill, but Araya's suggestion sounds interesting. I suspect that maybe some might die in the process anyway, so maybe you can bring as many as you can inside and humanely "euthanize" the rest? Sigh...

    1. I did take Araya's suggestion, and brought them all inside! I read that you don't have to keep them enclosed, at least for the first few caterpillar stages, so I have nice little dill and parsley bouquets in the living room, decorated with my new friends. They really don't wander from the food source. I also read that only one in one hundred butterfly eggs make it through the whole life cycle, so hopefully I'm doing them a favor by rescuing them from the birds. We'll see how this goes!


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