Swallowtails and the last of the Dill

Mon. Oct. 24, 2016

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Swallowtails and the last of the Dill

Over the past couple of weekends I’ve been cleaning and clearing some of my gardens.  The vegetable garden was done but I had several volunteer dill plants I let keep growing.  I love dill!  Then I noticed they were loaded with caterpillars.

Black Swallowtail caterpillar (early stage)
Black Swallowtail caterpillar (early stage)

The delightful creatures are in a couple of different stages. While this is a little late in the season, I’m told they’ll overwinter as a chrysalis.

Black Swallowtail caterpillar (later)
Black Swallowtail caterpillar (later) and early stage on the right.

The caterpillars prefer eating the flowers or small seeds but there must have been a dozen hanging out on my Dill! When they first hatch they’re black with a white band around the middle of their body. As they grow, they gradually turn light green with black, yellow, and white markings and are about 1 1/2 inches long when fully grown.

Find more info:  Butterflies and Moths of North America – Black Swallowtail

Minnesota Seasons.com

Sometimes when disturbed, black swallowtail caterpillars, like other swallowtail larvae, will display a forked appendage on the top of their head known as something I can’t pronounce!  That appendage emits a foul smell and is used to help protect the caterpillars from natural enemies. The University of Minnesota Extension says It may look frightening but it is harmless to people.

One ticked off swallowtail caterpillar!
One ticked off swallowtail caterpillar!

If you find these little creatures in your garden, tolerate them whenever possible. Their feeding in many cases is not serious.  This caterpillar turns into a pretty butterfly with black, blue, and yellow wings each with a ‘tail’. The black swallowtail is moderate-sized with a wingspan as large as 3 1/2 inches.

Black Swallowtail butterfly
Black Swallowtail butterfly

These caterpillars also love parsley and fennel.  I am going to place more of those plants in my perennial beds next year.  I was happy to see more Monarchs this year too!


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