Monday, August 14, 2017

Why I Farm Butterflies - The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

The photograph above is an example of one of the reasons I bring small caterpillars into the safer environment of the porch to mature and form their chrysalis. The caterpillar in the photo is a tomato hornworm. Tomato hornworms are extremely destructive in the garden. They can strip a plant in just a few day's time. That's the down side, on the up side, tomato hornworms turn into the delightful hummingbird moth. If you've ever witnessed one of these beautiful moths hovering over a nectar flower you will have most likely been entranced by the beauty and grace of it.
The white cocoons on top of the tomato hornworm are braconid wasps.
These wasps are a natural parasitical control, and the caterpillar is the host. I captured an image of the wasps in the photo just as they began to emerge. They are also a natural control for Eastern Tent Worms and other destructive pests. I have mixed feelings about the wasps. I love hummingbird moths, but have also seen de-foliated trees destroyed by tent worms.
The wasps will sometimes feed on swallowtail caterpillars too. If I move the caterpillars to a protected area when they are newly hatched they have a better chance of surviving to adulthood. I have tomatoes and certainly don't want them defoliated by a tomato hornworm, but I also admire the beauty of the moth they turn into. If I find a tomato hornworm I'll probably try to bring it to maturity. I'd like to have a few more hovering over my flowers, but will I keep a close watch on my tomatoes for betcha!


Sunday, August 13, 2017

Butterfly Farming Part IV

Here is a photo collage of several of the Black Swallowtail butterflies just after they emerged from the chrysalides. I never managed to be present when one broke the shell and climbed out, but I did photograph several as they waited for their wings to dry.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Butterfly Farming Part III


When the caterpillars reached a large size they began to slow down. Although I had added plenty of sticks and twigs to their pots, most left the dill and fastened themselves all around the porch in comma shapes. They stayed frozen in this position, attached by webbing to the surface of the area they chose, for a day or two.

Soon a chrysalis case formed around them. In some cases a brilliant green, in others a beige or tan color with beautiful markings. One caterpillar made the mistake of forming his chrysalis on the door of the porch. Sure enough after a stormy night I found the chrysalis hanging upside down, the wrong position for developing and emerging as a perfectly formed butterfly. I knew that another storm would knock the chrysalis off the door. I removed it as gently as I could and attached it to one of the twigs, hopefully with the proper slant. What did I use to attach it? Amazingly, a piece of spider web seemed to do the trick. Although there is some debris in this piece of web I am hoping for a perfect butterfly to emerge. The chrysalis is beginning to turn very dark, a sign the butterfly is almost ready to be born.
I lost track of about half the caterpillars, so the first one that emerged was a surprise. It must have created its chrysalis in a hidden area. The first I knew of him/her was on the porch screen. There it perched, gloriously perfect.
As I took photographs the butterfly seemed to sense the open door and flew to sip nectar, mate, and add more beautiful Black Swallowtail butterflies to our world.

Butterfly Farming/Gardening - Part II

The small caterpillars quickly grew from small specks to large, hungry caterpillars. They devoured the dill plants at an astonishing rate.

To supplement the pots of dill, more dill from the garden was necessary.

Gallon milk cartons worked well for large amounts of water and stability. A piece of netting attached to the top with a rubber band ensured the caterpillars would not drown. A small slit in the netting was sufficient to hold branches of dill in the water, and kept the stems steady for the caterpillars to feed upon. Since the dill branches were long and pliable it was possible to wrap them around the stems of the pots. The caterpillars migrated to these new stems without having to be handled.


A messy part of the experiment was the caterpillar poo, technical term frass, that ended up all over the floor of the porch. If I attempt to farm caterpillars again, and I'm sure I will, I will remember to place newspaper under the pot for easy clean-up.
Part III coming soon

Monday, July 24, 2017

Butterfly Gardening/Farming Part I

Every year I plant dill and parsley. Every year I watch as Black Swallowtail butterflies lay eggs on the herbs. The small caterpillars emerge, they feed, and grow, and feed, and suddenly disappear. Garden predators seem to devour them before they reach full size and form their chrysalis.

This year, I decided I was going to thwart the hungry critters:  wasps, birds, spiders and other insects. I planted six pots of dill and set them on the borders of my gardens. I also planted several areas of the vegetable garden with additional dill.

I soon reaped the outcome I had hoped for, black swallowtail butterflies laid their eggs on my dill. When they hatched, I moved the pots from the garden to my screened-in porch.

The tiny caterpillars thrived, eating voraciously, they have grown large and plump. Part II of my butterfly gardening/farming will soon follow.

Why I Farm Butterflies - The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

  The photograph above is an example of one of the reasons I bring small caterpillars into the safer environment of the porch to ...