Thursday, May 4, 2017

Butterfly Update-- Eggs and Eclosures!

My garden's first Black Swallowtail egg of 2017

As I mentioned several months ago, I had a LOT of Black Swallowtail caterpillars at the end of the summer. I think I ended up with 26 (!) chrysalises to babysit over the winter. Sadly, three of them eclosed too soon. The first one was when the sun's seasonal shift sent a beam of light into their cage and warmed one chrysalis up way too early: in January/February. I handfed the butterfly (sugar water, in a 4:1 water to sugar ratio) from a cottonball for several days, and eventually set it free during one of the weird early thaws we had this winter. I knew it was unlikely the butterfly would live very long, let alone find many flowers for food, but I wanted a more natural life for the butterfly than constant captivity. Since that butterfly eclosed during a snowstorm, we named it Snowflake.

Then while we were away from the house for about a week a second butterfly eclosed. Unfortunately since it never got any food it died before we returned. Sorry, little one.

The last early eclosure happened during the storm Stella, in mid March. It was a male but I couldn't resist naming the butterfly after a blizzard, so Stella he was. Again I fed him by hand. Something interesting about both of these butterflies: they didn't seem to recognize when I put them on the moistened puff that it was food. I had to gently unroll the proboscis with a straightened paper clip and place the tip on the surface of the cotton ball to get both of them to eat. But as soon as they tasted the sugar water they were happy to suck it up. The second butterfly we also set free a few weeks after eclosure. It was still pretty early but I know Stella survived for at least 24 hours because I saw him soar back through my yard the next afternoon.

A few weeks later, once temperatures at night were reliably in the 40s, I put the cage of remaining chrysalises outside to start their natural end of diapause. Last week several butterflies eclosed: three females. Then two males this weekend, and finally another female two days ago. Today while bringing my tomato and basil seedlings outside for some sunshine I spotted a female Black Swallowtail in my garden laying eggs in my carrot greens. I followed her around and managed to find two eggs. I'm pretty sure she laid more than that, but they're really hard to spot.

So the cycle begins again! I hope I get more eggs soon, I have plenty of carrots and dill sprouting in the garden.
The second egg this year. I'm so excited for little tiny caterpillars to hatch!

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