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“Parsley Worms”

Every year we grow some vegetables and herbs in a small garden out back. This year we had tomatoes and parsley. (I know, pretty pitiful for a garden, but we don’t have that much space!)  A few weeks ago, Angie noticed some little itty bitty worms on the parsley. We thought these were just some pests that needed to be eradicated. After doing some Googling, she discovered we actually had baby swallowtail butterflies!

These weren’t “parsley worms” at all, but little caterpillars that had recently hatched. Of course, since butterflies and other pollinators are being threatened by habitat loss, pesticides, etc, we decided to leave the little guys be.

In about a week, they had grown into true caterpillars with black, white and yellow markings. And our parsley was decimated. But that was OK since these little guys needed it to grow up big and strong. 🙂  After doing more research online, we decided we should bring some of the little guys inside and protect them from predators so they could turn into butterflies. Plus we figured it could be an educational experience for our boys to see them metamorphosize.

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A view inside the terrarium. The little guy on the left is in position to form his chrysalis.

Angie set up a little habitat in an old terrarium we have with parsley clippings in a vase of water, lots of branches, and a water dish. She then transported 5 of the little guys inside into the habitat. The others she left outside to fend for themselves. We just couldn’t fit them all in the terrarium!

Within a few days, the first caterpillar formed its chrysalis.  The first thing they do before they form the chrysalis is suspend themselves upside down with 2 thin strings of something (webbing maybe?). Then they shed their skin and form a tough outer shell. We found they only did this last part at night when no one could see them. Apparently they were shy. We tried setting up a time lapse of the event on one of our phones, but someone turned the light off and the whole video was in the dark. 🙁

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One of the brown chrysalises close up.

Over the next week, the other caterpillars formed their chrysalises. Something really interesting we noticed is that chrysalises on branches were brown, while chrysalises on parsley stems were green. They somehow knew to camouflage themselves. Pretty amazing. 🙂

The Hatching

About a week later, I was in the kitchen when Asher shouted, “Dad come quick! Look at this!” He was super excited about something. I hurried over to where he stood and saw that one of the chrysalises had hatched! We had our first black swallowtail butterfly! Asher ran upstairs and got his brothers and Mom. They all came downstairs to see our new house guest.

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Our first swallowtail butterfly trying to get out! (Sorry for the blurry butterfly… it was moving fast!)

The poor thing was frantically beating it wings against the clear plastic of the terrarium. I realized we needed to get it outside so it didn’t tire itself out. We carefully carried the terrarium outside and took the lid off. You’d think the butterfly would be smart enough to sense the air coming in from above him, but he just got confused and kept frantically flying against the clear plastic. 🙁 Finally Angie had the great idea of sticking a flower on a stem into the terrarium by the butterfly. He immediately latched onto it and Angie lifted him out of the terrarium. A few seconds later he was airborne and flying away!

Over the next week, the other chrysalises hatched. One by one, we released them and watched them fly away. The last two came out close to the same time, so we figured they must be buddies. 😉 Angie let the last two go. Below is a video she took of them. It looks like another one was confused by the clear plastic. I suppose I would be too if I were stuck in a terrarium. 🙂

The moral of the story? If you have small creatures on your plants, don’t always assume they are pests. Sometimes they are, but other times they can turn into something beautiful. 🙂

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