I just heard a wonderful activity story from Super Granny Mary Heath, gardener and grandmother of six, that I have to share. I’ll let Mary tell it in her own words. And be sure to look at the photos on the screen:
On June 18 when three of my granddaughters -- Rachel, age 7, Hailey, 6 and Taylor, 3 -- were out in our garden, we found a black swallowtail caterpillar on my parsley. I have an herb garden and that species especially loves parsley, dill, cilantro, and carrot tops. We got the "bug house" container, which I had ready and waiting. This is something we've done before, as far as catching bugs and watching them. We put the critter into the container and then I suggested we look it up on the Internet. The girls liked that idea. We learned that getting them to pupate and develop into a butterfly is really not too hard. So, back to the garden we went to find more parsley, dill, and cilantro leaves. This caterpillar ATE everything. We were putting in food twice a day. Rachel thought he needed water, so we spritzed it a couple of times, just to keep it moist.
Two days later, on June 20, I put a small stick into the container, because we had read how they crawl up the stick to pupate. Sure enough, almost immediately, the thing crawled up the stick. By the next morning, it was hanging from the stick, just as it's supposed to do, but we didn't know if it would actually spin a cocoon. The girls had to come over (they live a few blocks from us) every day to see the progress. On the morning of June 21, the cocoon was formed! It was in that state until June 29. Nothing happened all that time, and I was afraid our little creature was dead! Then, on the 29th, I was working by the sink, and heard a little rustle and looked over at the container... the cocoon was TWITCHING. I called the girls immediately and they came right over. They got to see this periodic twitching... like a cat in a bag. The girls were truly amazed and their interest now was regenerated for sure. We didn't know how soon it might emerge, so we watched and monitored it almost every waking hour! The day following there was no movement, and again I was afraid the caterpillar was dead. The girls and I had talked all along that sometimes, in nature, things don't work out like we hope they will, and that we needed to be very patient. It might turn into a butterfly and it might not. I don't think either of them had doubts like mine.
On July 1, we noticed a color change... definitely a good sign, as it turned blackish and you could actually see the yellow dots of color on the wings, right through the cocoon. Rachel, the oldest sister, could begin to imagine, I think, that there was a butterfly in there. We talked about how it might be a very small butterfly because the cocoon didn't seem very big.
On July 2, my husband got up at 5:30 a.m., and said the cocoon was intact. By the time I got up around 7, I looked in the container, and could hardly believe what I saw... we had a wet butterfly! I waited until 8 and called the girls. They came right over and by then the butterfly was pretty well unfurled, and drying off. It was beautiful... really was. The girls thought it might be hungry, so we talked about the food it liked. No longer was it dill or parsley, but now it would be nectar from flowers. We gathered a couple to put in the container. Nothing happened. The butterfly was still sort of stuck to the wall of the opposite side of the container.
We had read that after a couple of hours, the butterfly would be ready to fly. We talked about letting it go or keeping it. While Hailey seemed reluctant to release it, Rachel reminded her that that's what butterflies do… they fly away, and maybe it would be happiest if it could do that. Hailey seemed to agree. Just about then, the butterfly flew a little inside the cage and found the flowers. We decided then, to take it outside, near some flowers.
We gathered around, with camera in hand, and gently lifted the lid. It was a few minutes before it actually took off, but it was big and beautiful and landed across the yard near some flowers, then off in the yards around us.
We've never seen it since, but I told the girls, when they see a black swallowtail butterfly, they will have to wonder, was that ours?