Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Butterflies and caterpillars

I've been watching tiger swallowtails do their spiral courtship dance near the phlox this morning. The black one is the female, the yellow the male. She'll lay her eggs on all sorts of host plants -- tulip poplar, ash, and black cherry, among others. It's great to see some butterflies now after such a poor season to date. The April freeze followed by drought must have really taken its toll on butterflies, since they've been conspicuously absent up until now.

One of my first forays into gardening as an adult was gardening for butterflies. In spite of being a biologist, I had no idea of what caterpillars or butterflies ate, not much about their life cycles, and certainly little about their feeding preferences. My fellow students did pollination projects, and my best friend reared caterpillars in plastic bags as part of her research, but I was oblivious to the nuances.

But, starting to learn about butterflies, their host plants, and caterpillars was fascinating, and I quickly became hooked. Expanding my attention to all sorts of garden insects, birds, and other wildlife was the next step and has been wonderful fun.

Only just now am I starting to see the striped caterpillars of black swallowtail butterflies, here munching on a fennel flower in the vegetable garden.

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