Several weeks ago, while I was working in the garden, a battered, tattered black swallowtail butterfly flitted into my dill patch. While she was there she laid some eggs. Eventually, some of those eggs hatched, and then there were caterpillars in the garden, eating the dill.
They ate and ate. After awhile, some of the caterpillars disappeared. I assume other wildlife, such as birds, ate them. The last time I saw them, a few days ago, there were three left, fat and striped and still eating the dill.
They have all gone now, which means I can finally harvest the dill. The plan is to dehydrate most of it, for use this winter. I am thinking of using it on fish, in particular. It is also good in spanakopita, but I don’t eat cheese like I used to, even feta, so that recipe is no longer “in the rotation”.
What to do about caterpillars in the garden?
Even if these striped caterpillars were more voracious eaters, gnawing my dill plants down to little nubs, I probably would just make a note to plant a lot more next year. Accepting some insect-damage is part of the organic gardening way.
In addition, the world has been losing pollinators over at least the past couple of decades, probably longer. Even though butterflies are not our most effective pollinators, removing these with either an organic pesticide or a mechanical method like smashing would not be good for the future of food in the world.
Luckily, the caterpillars have left plenty of dill for us humans.
When other caterpillars in the garden eat so much that a plant is nearly bare of leaves, then control measures may be desired. As usual, the first would be to keep the adults, the butterflies, away from the plants completely. Draping small-meshed netting or a spun row cover on a support structure over the plants can keep adult fliers away (see post about cabbage butterflies and moths).
What else do these caterpillars eat?
These caterpillars are sometimes called parsley worms, because they eat many plants that are in the parsley family. If you guessed that one of those plants is parsley, you are right! Fennel and carrots are other garden plants in the same family, as is dill.
University of Florida has published a fact sheet about the Eastern black swallowtail butterfly, its lifecycle and ecology. The fact sheet includes a list of other plants these caterpillars will eat. Some are native plants, like mock bishop weed and water hemlock. Some are not native across the entire U.S., but have been introduced. One that many people will recognize is Queen Ann’s lace.
Where did the caterpillars go?
Surprisingly, Joe and I found a chrysalis way across the yard, in a flower bed, on Thursday. I almost never find these, so this one made my day.
The chrysalis is on a leaf of a hardy amaryllis, given to me by my mother-in-law many years ago.
Which beautiful pollinators are in your garden?