As the pandemic rolls on, I am developing a hobby that will likely stay with me long after this is all over.
These days, I have the time to notice things.
A couple of weeks ago I noticed several juicy caterpillars feasting on the curly parsley in the herb window box by my kitchen door. They were a little off-putting, so I gathered them in a paper towel and tossed them into the trash. Then I checked the internet for “caterpillars on curly parsley.” Oh my: they were the beginning stage of black swallowtail butterflies. Quickly, I rescued them from the trash, brought them inside, and asked on NextDoor if anyone could spare me a suitable container. I ended up raising these five creatures from the caterpillar through the chrysalis stage until they emerged as simply beautiful black swallowtail butterflies. We had a special time of family togetherness as we set them free. A miracle! My grandkids were as smitten as I was.Now that the swallowtails have flown off, I have two monarch caterpillars munching on milkweed leaves in the NextDoor neighbor’s container. Each day, I put new leaves in and watch them fatten up. It’s easy, given the rhythm of these days, to spend rather long stretches of time watching caterpillars. Again I am sharing the process with grandkids; it provides a good excuse for heading to their place with my container. I believe they will be enchanted by the beautiful green chrysalises that will eventually hang from twigs in the jar. And when the monarchs slough off their chrysallises and emerge, their wings wet and heavy but soon enough dried and ready for flight, we will all, again, feel that we have witnessed a small and gorgeous miracle.
And day by day, I delight now in the abundance of butterflies that I am seeing in my gardens this summer. Not infrequently I will see three or four monarchs on my bergamot, on the rudbeckia, and on the Joe pyeweed. I see the cabbage white butterflies and painted ladies, and occasionally the black and yellow swallowtails. The other day, I was startled when a black swallowtail greeted me by my back door — returning, perhaps, to let me know that all is well.
Note: for anyone interested in raising butterflies: the black swallowtail caterpillars in my window box preferred the curly parsley to Italian parsley. I understand that yellow swallowtail caterpillars can be found on dill. I plan to plant dill and curly parsley again next spring. Monarchs present as eggs or small caterpillars on the underside of milkweed leaves. My caterpillars like the common milkweed; I have not found any eggs or caterpillars on the marsh milkweed in my alley garden.
[ Note added 2020-08-01: ] This hobby just keeps getting better! By now, I have two monarch butterfly chrysalises ready to morph into monarch butterflies. Their chrysalises are as beautiful as anything I have seen: lovely oblong shapes, soft green, with a circle of delicate gold beads separating the body of each chrysalis from the top. How can my fat caterpillars morph into something so beautiful? One of my friends described the chrysalises as “more beautiful than jewels.”
I was able to observe one of the caterpillars change into the chrysalis: the light green skin of the chrysalis began to work its way from the bottom of the hanging caterpillar slowly upwards until the entire caterpillar was encased in the green shell. Even then the chrysalis, caterpillar inside, wriggled about quite noticeably until it finally became as still as it has been for the past week. Now, two are hanging in my container, readying themselves to emerge as exquisite butterflies.
Then earlier today, as I watered, I noticed a fat caterpillar munching on my curly parsley: another black swallow tail butterfly to be. Because I know that they are easy prey for predators, I have taken it inside and will let it go through its stages until it, also, emerges as another lovely creature, a feast for our eyes.
And now, just a moment ago: I found a very small caterpillar on the curly parsley. Also, inside and into my container it goes. It seems that, this summer, caterpillars are the gift that does not stop giving.
This pandemic time is turning into my “summer of the butterflies.”