Well, things have really picked up! I was so forlorn, depressed even melancholy because all winter I had planned and prepared and grew plants ....and no monarchs, no eggs until this week. I lamented to my buddy Bob who is my caterpillar guru and he said Patience is what I need and a few "starter cats" So I raised up 22 that he gave me. They are in the pupa stage now. Since I have found a few cats at work I have had a steady stream of onesies and twosies to release. Anytime I get to release a butterfly I am happy! Now that I have released a few females (and males) I have visitors! In the last 3 days I have collected 79 eggs!!! So exciting!
The really big news is about the black swallowtail caterpillars. I have collected 74 caterpillars and eggs in the last 10 days! All from three pots of carrot plants and dill plants. I will definitely grow both of those next year. Anyway, As they were growing bigger and bigger I took Lee's (DH) suggestion of putting them into the cat house because there were more of them than monarchs. So I placed a small window box of carrots in the house and they destroyed it in 72 hours! There are many cats in all sizes in the cat house. A really cool thing to observe with these cats is the variety of color of their skin as they grow. They go through 5 moltings to get to the chrysalis stage, each stage is a little different than the previous. Now the largest cats are doing their "walk abouts" and preparing to make their chrysalis'. There are 6 chrysalis' now. One of the interesting things I found was that when they do this walk about they are not afraid of taking several free falls from the sides and ceiling of the cat house. A totally different behavior than monarchs. Believe me, I spent many hours watching cats last summer, monarchs don't free fall. They lock on and don't let go. Black swallowtail cats have a defense mechanism a little different than other cats. If they feel threatened or you apply a little pressure on them they shoot out it's osmeterium, or scent gland. It smells like sulfur- oh ick! It does not really wash away either. Very interesting caterpillar. I think all these things make this cat ideal to raise for observing with kids. It is as simple as a few pots of carrot plants and dill. Curley parsley is also popular with the cats. Make sure you have necter plants for the butterflies to feed on. Butterfly bush is very popular with the swallowtails. If you choose to do this, time your plantings so you have mature plants when the eggs really start coming (usually early July on. in the Chicagoland area) then plan on making a second planting and possibly a third of dill. I am on my second and going to plant a third this weekend.
If you want more info on raising black swallowtails click here: http://themagnifyingglass.typepad.com/weblog/2009/05/how-to-raise-swallowtail-caterpillars.html
As always, contact me if you have questions! I will reply as soon as I can.