Last year the Black Swallowtail butterfly was named the official State Butterfly of New Jersey. On September 14th as I tended the RRA Square Foot Garden, I was rewarded with the sighting of one of these beautiful butterflies fluttering about.
On close examination, I noticed that this butterfly was not on an excursion for nectar. In fact, it was depositing its tiny yellow eggs on the tops of the leaves of the carrot plants that we have growing in the garden. (Plants in the carrot family like fennel, dill and parsley, are the favorite host plants for this species of butterflies).
As I continued to watch this beautiful butterfly flutter from leaf to leaf, I noticed that it curled its abdomen slightly under to deposit tiny fertilized eggs onto the leaves. After a few moments it flew away, and I began to search for the tiny treasures left behind. I was thrilled to find the tiniest yellow eggs attached to the leaves.
It has been two weeks since that first sighting and I am happy to report that the eggs have hatched and there are about 24 caterpillars in various stages of development inhabiting the leaves of the carrot plant. Caterpillars outgrow their skins a number of times. When they shed their skin, they then eat it.
Well, I ventured a little too close to one such caterpillar while it was in the process of eating its shed skin and all of a sudden two orange horns stretched from its head and quickly retracted back. I have encountered this behavior before and know that there is also an odorous scent that is secreted, which is a warning signal. I certainly got the message!
The children in the Square Foot Gardening program ad the staff of the Arboretum are having a wonderful time observing the growth and development of the newest members to our garden... the Black Swallowtail butterflies.