Signs of Spring

It has been far too long since I have posted in this blog, but I’m back. I’d like to restart this blog with my favorite sign of spring so far this year.

2015 black swallowtail

2015blkswallowtail2 I found a butterfly chrysalis on a dried up branch of dill I was about to toss in the compost pile last fall. The chrysalis fell off of the dill, and, not knowing if it would be able to survive on the ground, I took it inside and placed it on my orchid plant. Over the winter I mostly forgot it was there, but kept thinking I should make some sort of enclosure for it in case it actually survived and emerged. I was a bit surprised to see this big beautiful butterfly sitting on my lime tree yesterday morning. It is too cold outside to release it, so I fed it honey water and left it on my plants. After a few feedings of honey water or diluted apple juice, it discovered the lemon blossoms and hyacinth blossoms in my office and seems to be eating normally without my help. I’ve decided not to put it in any kind of enclosure so it has room to move around. It seems to want to stay on my plant shelf and bask in the plant lights, and it looks very pretty there.

I’d like to release her when it warms up, but she doesn’t fly very well. It may be because the chrysalis was not attached properly to a branch but was rather lying on its side on a leaf. I’ve been doing some reading about keeping butterflies and it seems as though the position of the chrysalis during development may be important to proper wing development.

When I realized that the dill that grows in my garden is actually a host plant for these lovely butterflies, I started leaving patches of dill standing for the entire season so that a few generations of swallowtails can be raised on them. What I’ve realized is that more of the spring caterpillars seem to survive to adulthood, and those eggs laid later in the season suffer greater losses. The caterpillars disappear rapidly and I don’t see nearly as many larger ones in late summer and fall. I have a theory that towards the end of the season, yellow jackets are eating them. I’ve seen yellow jackets hunt and eat insects in my garden, especially my honey bees. Big fat caterpillars would be easy pickings for hunters like yellow jackets, and yellow jackets grow more plentiful in late summer and fall. This year I may collect some of the butterfly eggs and protect them from predators. I can overwinter the last generation outdoors in their chrysalis so they have a natural life cycle and don’t emerge too early in the spring.  I’d love to see more of these beauties in my garden.


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