It is a widely known (I hope) fact that Monarch Butterflies are in danger due to Milkweed annihilation. Letting Milkweed grow is a wonderful conscious step to remedy this problem. Milkweed makes pretty flowers and usually grows away from the garden in a flower bed or in a field as a weed.
Swallowtail butterfly, on the other hand, unlike the Monarch, feeds on the plants we actually cultivate in the garden: dill, parsley, carrots, rue etc. This is a significant difference, because this makes the Swallowtail butterfly caterpillar a garden pest. And even though most gardeners know that butterflies are beneficial pollinators, as well as pretty to look at, dealing with their caterpillar damage may be frustrating. The problem worsens due to the fact that gardeners often do not identify the caterpillars correctly and simply destroy them.
Swallowtail butterflies start as little, individually laid pearl-shaped eggs, which turn into little spiky brown-black caterpillars with one white stripe, resembling bird droppings. The caterpillars shed their skin a few times and are most often seen in a green/black striped garb with yellow dots. They have little orange horns that pop out when threatened, which release a very stinky odor. In a few weeks of feeding, the caterpillars make a cocoon and in a few more weeks – butterflies emerge.
We have been raising Swallowtail butterflies for a few years now and release dozens of them out into the wild. We would like to encourage people to think Pet, not Pest. You can have your dill and let the butterfly caterpillars eat it too!
The easiest solution is to plant some extra dill/parsley away from the garden or on the side and let the caterpillars feed on their own patch. This will protect your main crop, but won’t protect the caterpillars, which often vanish in our garden due to high population of wild birds… So to save both, your garden plants and the caterpillars, a caterpillar farm is the answer. It is so incredibly easy to make and is fun, educational and beneficial to your garden!
To set up the farm all you need is a little space, small container with lid to hold water and preferably an aquarium with an open top and some netting. The container should hold some water and have small holes punched through the lid to hold feeding plants – we use carrot leaves because they dont get used in the kitchen as much as dill or parsley, but you can use either. The water will help the plants stay fresh longer and the lid will prevent the caterpillars from falling in and drowning. After placing the plants into the container with water, place it into the aquarium and cover the top with netting. The caterpillars stay put for the most part and will remain on the plants, as long as there is food, but they go on a journey right before cocooning and may travel outside of you designated are to find a good spot to make their cocoon, so make sure the top is covered with netting and they have a sturdy surface to make their cocoon on – usually they will just use the sides of the aquarium or some sticks placed inside.
After the plants have been set up and caterpillars brought in from the outside and secured, place the whole farm out of direct sunlight, but within easy access so you can keep an eye on them and the plants. Change the plants every few days or as needed, considering the speed of consumption and wilting.
That’s really it! Once all the caterpillars have made their cocoons, remove the feeding plants and wait! Make sure the butterflies have something sturdy to hold on to right after hatching while their wings dry, like a few sticks placed within easy reach of the cocoons.
This easy, fun (especially for kids) solution will decrease your pest problems and add to your pet selection, not to mention the pollinator benefit as well as the beauty factor in your garden!