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Raising Black Swallowtail Butterflies

August 5, 2014 | By | 2 Replies More

raising black swallowtail butterflies

This one clung to me for a bit before flying away

One of the reasons I love gardening is that it reconnects me with nature. I’ve learned a lot about the process by which a seed becomes nourishing food, how the insect world has its own unique food chain and how creatures I once took for granted come to be.

A few years ago, I had a very small garden and was growing parsley. One day, I noticed what looked like a little spot of black bird poo on one of the leaves. Then, I saw another and another. I realized quickly that they were worms that appeared to be eating my herbs. Turns out they were the hungry larvae of the eastern black swallowtail butterfly.

This butterfly is very common in North America. Many of the native plants that these butterflies use to host their larvae are no longer abundant, but they will use non-native garden plants like dill, carrots and parsley as hosts for their larvae.

This year, I was delighted to see the little black caterpillars appear in my garden. These little guys don’t have the best survival rate in the wild since they fall prey to hungry birds and parasitic wasps.

raising black swallowtail butterflies

Munching the dill


My husband, Mr. President, and I decided to tip the scales in favor of the caterpillars and try raising black swallowtail butterflies in our home. We have an odd little built-in cubbyhole in our sunroom that was perfect for this purpose since we could seal it off with netting to keep the caterpillars safe and still see the action. We filled vases with fresh dill and arranged sturdy twigs for them to attach to once they were ready to pupate.

raising black swallowtail butterflies

When they look like this, they will soon form a chrysalis

It was amazing to watch the caterpillars grow and transform from their first stage, or instar, through their fifth and final instar in about 10 days. They also pooped – a lot! Finally, when each caterpillar was ready to form a chrysalis, they made one final, very large poop before seeking a safe place to create the chrysalis.

raising black swallowtail butterflies

This one decided to pupate on the ceiling!


One by one, the plump green caterpillars attached themselves and assumed a sort of question mark shape. Most of them chose one of our twigs, but one adventurous butterfly-to-be attached to the ceiling of our cubbyhole. Over the course of 24 hours, they would form a green chrysalis that would soon turn brown. On the twigs, they were cleverly camouflaged.

raising black swallowtail butterflies

And…here it is, perfect and so pretty!

Then, the real excitement began! After about two weeks, the one on the roof “hatched” first, soon followed by the others. We transferred the twigs with the pupae to one of our cat carriers so we could more easily release the butterflies outside.




When butterflies first arrive in the world, their wings are all crumpled up. It takes time for the butterflies to pump their wings out and begin to flutter them. I think they’re probably quite vulnerable during this time since they are unable to fly. We waited a few hours to release each butterfly to ensure they were ready.

Raising black swallowtail butterflies was such a wondrous experience! Now, I’m trying to talk The Prez into helping me install a little hinged screen door on the cubbyhole, just in case we want to do it again next year!




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Category: Enviable Ideas, General, Home and Garden

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