Day 22: The New Brood

If you’ve been reading this blog, you know that I raise caterpillars. How do you find caterpillars to raise, though? The best way to grow the types of plants that the species of butterfly you are interested in likes to lay her eggs.

For the Eastern Black Swallowtail, which is what I primarily like to raise, the plants include parsley, rue, dill, carrot, fennel, and a few others.

Part of my daily routine during the summer is to check these plants for eggs. They’re tiny and hard to see, but when you know what to look for it makes it easier. I found the group of 3 eggs that Lazarus came from a few weeks ago, which was a bit early in the season. Since then, nothing.

Until last Friday.

29 (count ’em) swallowtail eggs

I began inspecting one of the rue plants, and immediately saw an egg. So I grabbed a scissors and a small container. This way I could trim the part of the leaf with the egg, and save it in the container. I collected that egg, and began checking out the rest of the plant. There’s another one! And another! It seemed that everywhere I looked I found another egg!

After I was sure I got all the eggs from the rue, I moved on to the parsley plants. Sure enough, there were several more on those plants, too. It took some time, but I was finally sure that I had found them all. Back indoors I very carefully arranged the various plant clippings so that the eggs were visible, and took the photo above. Prior to this, the most eggs I had ever found was 6, so finding 29 at once was incredible! Over the next 2 days I found 5 more, bringing the grand total to 34. I’m going to need a bigger housing for them!

Someone asked me why I bring them indoors, where the temperature is much cooler than they would be exposed to outside. There are several reasons, but the primary reason is that it shields them from predators. I did some research online first to make sure that it wouldn’t be harmful to be indoors, and there does not seem to be any problems with it. The results I’ve gotten have borne that out.

Freshly-hatched caterpillars!

This morning the eggs began hatching. As soon as they hatch they start eating the leaf they are on, which is pretty wilted by now, so I add fresh host plant material for them to munch on. Can you find all the caterpillars in the photo above? I can see at least part of 14 caterpillars. There are also 2 unhatched eggs visible, and if you look at them closely, you can see that they are no longer the smooth yellow color of the newly-laid eggs.

Those stripes are the segments of the soon-to-be-hatched caterpillar. I imagine that these are from the 5 eggs that I found after the first batch, as they seem to be a day or two behind in development.

This will certainly be a good test of my caterpillar-raising skills in trying to help 34 different creatures grow to adulthood. I’ll be sure to post about any significant events in that process in the weeks to come.

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