My friend Meredith Heywood of Whynot Pottery frequently posts the most wonderful pictures from her garden. Late last summer, she posted a picture of a black swallowtail caterpillar feasting on her parsley. It was such a beautiful creature, I've been hoping for a firsthand encounter ever since. A few weeks back, Hoot Owl Karma ran into a couple on the mock bishop's weed alongside the pond, but that very brief encounter did not offer an opportunity for much meaningful interaction.
Thanks to Hoot Owl Karma, another opportunity came knocking just last week. My cousin Danny texted me a picture of a beautiful caterpillar, hoping I could help him out with an ID. It was the black swallowtail bonanza for which I'd been waiting. Danny was kind enough to share the location with me, and these are a few images from the garden of the butterflies he discovered...
These tall and strikingly beautiful plants are golden fennel. The foliage smells strongly of licorice, and the black swallowtails seem to be rather fond of it, just as they are fond of dill and parsley and wild carrots and a good number of the plants in the carrot family (Apiaceae). We see at least seven individuals in the frame below, but there are actually many more hidden deeper in the foliage.
One need not look far to find caterpillars at every stage of the journey to adulthood, and everywhere the lovely and fragrant fennel blossoms.
An early instar (larval stage), tiny, but replete with rather scary looking bristles.
After molting, in the next step toward maturity, the bristles remain, but the familiar pattern of the later instars is emerging.
And here, plump body adorned with the splendid yellow spots upon black stripes pattern of a nearly mature caterpillar, young butterfly finds itself nearing the end of a played out stem.
As dozens of its kin graze quietly nearby, time slows... to a barely perceptible crawl.
Out on a limb.
Leaves, blossoms, stalks. All edible.
No rest for the weary. Not yet.
Race to the top.
Then slower still...
There's plenty of time to mosey over to a nearby mint, spin a sling of silk,
and hang out right here for a while...
in the garden of the butterflies.