Friday, June 23, 2017

The Case of the Missing Caterpillars

On Tuesday, my husband and older granddaughter spotted some interesting-looking caterpillars munching on our dill plant. My husband, two granddaughters, and I checked them out several times during the course of the day. That night, I counted ten caterpillars on the plant. On Wednesday morning, there were just two left. By Thursday morning, they had all disappeared--even though my husband covered the plant with netting.
Our family was really disappointed. We had so hoped to see them metamorphose into butterflies.

I'm not sure what ate them. I doubt they crawled away on a long-distance journey. We couldn't find them anywhere else in the garden.
Thinking of those caterpillars brought to mind Christina Rossetti's poem Caterpillar.

by Christina Rossetti

Brown and furry
Caterpillar in a hurry:
Take your walk
To the shady leaf or stalk.

May no toad spy you,
May little birds pass by you;
Spin and die,
To live again a butterfly.

My husband and I did some research on the caterpillars. They looked a lot like the larvae of the Anise Swallowtail Butterfly--who like dill plants. I'm not sure, however, that they live here in the Northeast.


Heidi Mordhorst has the Poetry Friday Roundup at My Juicy Little Universe.



Laura Shovan said...

I wonder if these are monarch caterpillars? The third grade I visited this year was "growing" some monarch larvae in hopes of releasing butterflies, but they aren't very hardy. I hope some of your survived, whatever they are.

Elaine Magliaro said...


Monarch caterpillars have black, yellow, and white stripes...and eat milkweed. We used to raise Painted Lady Butterflies in my second grade class. My students so enjoyed watching the caterpillars shed their skins, form chrysalises, and become butterflies. I used to take my students on a field trip to The Butterfly Place in Westford, Massachusetts--where they could see all different kinds of caterpillars, butterflies, moths, chrysalises and cocoons.

Brenda Harsham said...

I like the big fat caterpillars better than the tiny inchworm ones that get in my hair every spring. Caterpillars have such great names. I'm fond of the Spicebush. Although I've never met one.

Mary Lee said...

Those are black swallowtail caterpillars. They feed on dill or parsley or queen anne's lace. When they are ready to make their chrysalis they "wander." So, it's likely that they are somewhere fairly close by, and you'll see some butterflies in a couple of weeks. Watch for their eggs on your dill/parsley -- there's still time for one more generation that will emerge as adults this summer. The next generation after that will overwinter as chrysalises.

I plant dill and parsley expressly for the swallowtails, but although I've had a few caterpillars, none of them have made it to chrysalis this year. I'm very sad. I haven't seen a single butterfly, either, and hardly any bees, in spite of all the blooming plants we have in our garden. :-(

Elaine Magliaro said...

Thanks, Mary Lee! The black swallowtail caterpillars look just like the anise swallowtail caterpillars. This is the first year that we found caterpillars in our garden. Julia got so excited. We'll keep an eye out for chrysalises.

Kay said...

Lovely picture and poem! I planted a pollinator garden last year, and it is growing prolifically this year. I hope to find caterpillars one day, but now I enjoy the butterflies and bees flitting around.

BJ Lee said...

I'm glad Mary Lee identified them. I'm always frustrated when I see something in nature I can't identify. Wonderful poem! Thank you, Elaine!

Linda B said...

I love the "wish" of the poem, Elaine. Like Mary Lee, I think that yours have sneaked off to form their chrysalis & you'll see some butterflies soon! You had so many!

Jane @ said...

Oh, I wish I had a garden! I have a teeny tiny little balcony, maybe I should try a little pot or two, and see if any friends appear. :)

Heidi Mordhorst said...

Elaine, thanks for joining Poetry Friday this week--I'm now finishing my rounds from the Luberon area in France! Like you, I've supervised several Painted Lady butterfly project with pre-K and 2nd, and boy, the thrill never fades! I hope ML is right and that you find a swallowtail or two in your garden. Thanks for the classic Christina Rosetti!