Those beautiful black swallowtail butterflies have been hard at work finding mates and leaving the eggs of the next generation on our bronze fennel! This little guy (featured above) has probably been hiding in the leaves for a week since he’s about 1/4″ long now. He’ll keep eating and growing, shedding his skin and growing more (and eating more) for a few weeks. Then he’ll crawl off to one of the shrubs near-by and form a bright green chrysalis. A few weeks more and the transformation will be complete! And the cycle will start all over again, only this time the mature caterpillar will form a brown chrysalis that will winter over and emerge next spring. Here are a few photos of the entire process:

egg  Catapiller

black swollowtail caterpiller mature

black swollowtail chrys  black swollowtail chrys winter

This great life-cycle sheet can be found at the Square Foot Gardening Forum

Black Swallowtail life cycle

Here’s a fun and educational project to share with children:

Check out your fennel, dill, parsley, carrots, or even wild Queen-Ann’s lace for the round bright yellow eggs or the caterpillars. Collect them gently; still attached to the leaves they are on. Place them in a clean clear container with lots of room for them to grow. The container will need good air flow (a secured screen on top will do) and lots of the food plant they were eating. You will need to change the food plant daily so make sure you have a fresh supply from your garden available for at least 4 weeks. You can put a few sprigs in a container of water to keep them fresh for a few days, but these little caterpillars grow quickly and have big appetites! Don’t let them go hungry! Keep the container shaded; heat can build up if the container is left in the sun. Before the caterpillars become an inch long, provide a sturdy branch or stick positioned at an angle for them to attach to when they are ready to start the metamorphosis process to become a butterfly. From chrysalis to butterfly will take about 10 days (for a summer hatching). If you check carefully, you may see the wings of the butterfly start to form while still inside the chrysalis. And if you’re very observant, you might even be able to watch the young butterfly emerge. Please release the butterflies as soon as they completely emerge. They have a very short time to find a mate and start the process all over again.