Tale of The Swallowtails

Today’s post is a guest post by Melissa at Sprigs and Roots.


The sight of a butterfly drinking nectar from a garden flower can evoke an appreciation of a simple and delicate beauty. However, we rarely stop to think about the less-than-picturesque life the butterfly had prior to that point.

This story recounts how a few garden intruders completed their transformation into butterflies, with a little help from the community.

The Discovery

One hot Saturday, I came across a brightly-colored caterpillar while weeding. Because it wasn’t on a plant, I left it alone, and soon afterward returned indoors to escape the heat.

Meanwhile, this caterpillar carried on… and called his buddies.

When I returned to weed that evening, I noticed something was wrong with the dill plants. I looked closer, and saw them. Caterpillars, everywhere… crawling on the dill, weighing it down, bending the stems, crunching, munching, moving, eating. I could literally hear them biting into the leaves, as I looked at them in horror.

I plucked them off, and put several in a jar. I didn’t know what they were or if they would eat other plants, so I took them inside to look them up. The search quickly resulted in an answer: black swallowtails.

The Removal

Although I determined the little pests would not destroy my entire garden, they were still not welcome in it. I set out for the woods, to leave the caterpillars a distance away that would require, from their perspective, a Homer-esque journey back to the dill patch. On the way, I ran into one of my neighbors, Jana.

“Look what I found,” I said, holding up my jar of wriggling green bodies.

After I told her that they were swallowtails, she seemed interested in showing them to her husband. I gave her the jar.

“Just dump them in the woods when you’re done,” I said. “I don’t need them coming back — I’m not sure my dill would recover!”

A few days later, Jana called and informed me that while she had the caterpillars, she spoke to another neighbor who had grandchildren visiting, and they had asked to keep the caterpillars and watch them complete their metamorphosis into butterflies. My online research had shown they are an easy butterfly to raise, and are especially good for children’s projects.

Jana also told me that a few of the caterpillars had already gone on to create their chrysalises. The kids were excited. I, too, was thrilled, and asked if I could take a few photos.

The Ironic Return

On Saturday morning, I had another phone call from Jana.

“The caterpillars are on your front porch. I guess the grandkids are gone for the weekend, so they’re all yours until they get back. They’ll probably pick them up Sunday night.”

I fetched the container from the porch and stared at it for a moment. It held the very same culprits I had pulled from my dill the previous weekend. It also held several beautifully constructed chrysalises, in varying shades of green and brown. Impressive work for such a gooey-looking thing.

When I looked closer at the remaining caterpillars, I noticed they were still eating. Uh-oh, I thought. How much can caterpillars eat? Some of my dill are just starting to come back. Cutting pieces off to feed these guys would kill even more of it. Maybe they’ll be fine with what they have now for the weekend.

Then, I thought about the bugs and caterpillars my siblings and I found when we were children, and would attempt to keep as pets. We’d place the caterpillars in shoeboxes, filled with leaves and sticks. Sometimes, we bestowed them with names. We’d play with them, monitor them, and basically over-handle them until our dinner time, when they’d usually make their escape. When they didn’t, and they died instead, I remember feeling devastated. What if those kids returned and these swallowtail caterpillars had died? While they were at my house? I couldn’t let it happen.

I picked up the phone to call my husband, who was running errands.

“Can you stop by the grocery store?” I asked. “I need you to pick up some dill. Organic would be best.”

The irony of the situation was not lost on him. But he followed through, and brought home the store-bought organic dill to feed the creatures that had been eating my garden dill a week earlier.

The caterpillars and chrysalises stayed at their weekend spa retreat until Sunday evening. By the time they left, one more caterpillar had become idle and begun shedding its skin, morphing into a chrysalis. I had to admit — it was fascinating.

The Beauty of It All

Less than a week later, I received a status update. Big, beautiful, healthy butterflies were emerging. Our shared experience had resulted in success.

We’ve created, as a community, some young butterfly enthusiasts, as I now have instructions to save any wayward swallowtail caterpillars I find, and surrender them to the house down the street. I may find more of the black swallowtail pupae; after all, the garden location worked out rather well for their parents.

This entire experience has made me think of one of my favorite quotes, which alludes to the beauty that can emerge from change, or from an unfamiliar situation:

“Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly.” (Unknown)

Unless, of course, the caterpillar hatches in my garden. In that case, it is given luxury accommodations, fed organic produce, and shuttled around the neighborhood. Then it becomes a butterfly.

As stated on Melissa’s blog, Sprigs and Roots, she shares “…a collection of nature obersvations, short stories, and a chronicle of the failures and successes of my green thumb.” You’ll definitely want to click over and catch up on the exciting chronicle of her baby bluebirds.

Thanks, Melissa!

PAID ENDORSEMENT DISCLOSURE: In order for me to support my blogging activities, I may receive monetary compensation or other types of remuneration for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial and/or link to any products or services from this blog.

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