Carrots and Black Swallowtail Butterflies

Carrots and Black Swallowtail butterflies are very connected in a way that I never knew about.  Late last summer, I learned why there is a good second reason to grow carrots (check out last post) besides just to harvest carrots.  This happened totally in a serendipitous way.  I was sitting on my porch where the planter is and a Black Swallowtail butterfly kept landing on the carrots leaves.  He would land on one, stay a minute and then flit away and then come back and land on another.  He kept doing this.

What is this about Carrots and Black Swallowtail Butterflies??

Carrots and Black Swallowtail Butterflies EggWhen I examined a leaf,  lo and behold there was a tiny butterfly egg on it.  You can see the little white ball on the leaf!  So I guess it was no “he” but a she and she was laying plenty of eggs!!  Wow this was exciting!!  I didn’t know that carrots were a host plant for the Black Swallowtail butterfly.  Host plants include dill, celery, parsley, Queen Ann’s lace, wild carrot, anise and parsnips and I guess regular carrots though they weren’t listed in Wikipedia.  So here we were with lots of Black Swallowtail eggs on our carrot plants.  Hmm… Carrots and Black Swallowtail Butterflies who would have imagined!!  I knew about Monarchs and Milkweed which I had growing in another part of my garden but I didn’t know that carrots were a host plant for Black Swallowtail butterflies.  What a wonderful way to find out!! Live and learn all the time!!

Carrots and Black Swallowtail Butterflies Continued!

Black Swallowtail CaterpillarSo I started keeping an eye on all these eggs that this butterfly laid.  Small little black furry caterpillars emerged.  They were so small at first,  they were barely noticeable.  Then they started eating the carrot foliage.  It wasn’t so bad at first.  But then there were a lot of them and they got bigger and bigger.  There are different stages of caterpillars for the Black Swallowtail butterfly.  At first they look totally different than what they end up being.  Not like the Monarch caterpillar that maintains its same look throughout the caterpillar transformations.   At first they are black and furry and then they end up being very smooth and colorful.  There are  pictures of all the instar larval stages at this link for the Black Swallowtail butterfly.

I was starting to get a little upset because these caterpillars were just going to town on the carrot leaves.  I could see that Caterpillars ate all the carrot leaves!there would be none left.  So you can see from the picture on the left that I was correct.  Then I thought that they would probably grow back (which they eventually did).  I fantasized about bringing some caterpillars in the house to protect them from predators but I didn’t know if I had enough carrot leaves to feed them.  I also thought if I pick carrot leaves to feed them in the house the leaves would die quickly, they are rather delicate.Then they would have nothing to eat.  Carrot leaves are not like milkweed leaves.  Milkweed leaves last for a few days after you pick them.  In the end it all worked out.  The caterpillars had enough to eat.  They all left when it was time to make their chrysalis.  One caterpillar crawled up on our porch brick wall and made a chrysalis.  It is still there.

Black Swallowtail ChrysalisI read that if they make a chrysalis in late summer they will overwinter and emerge in the spring.  So I am waiting….. Here is a pic of the chrysalis.  If you look very closely you can see the silk that is attaching it to the wall.  I hope that I get to see this butterfly emerge.

So as you can see growing carrots was a great experience in more ways than one.  We did harvest nice, fat carrots and we got lots of Black Swallowtail caterpillars to watch.  It was a great learning adventure!  I will definitely plant more carrots this year for us and the butterflies!!