Garden Talk

with Rebecca Jordi


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Q: What is this caterpillar eating my parsley?

Black Swallowtail caterpillar

Black Swallowtail caterpillar

A:   Thank you for sharing the photo. This is the larvae or caterpillar of the Black Swallowtail butterfly.  The black swallowtail larvae are often confused with the monarch butterfly caterpillar as the colors are quite similar. However, if you look closer you will notice distinctive differences in the yellow and black markings of the two caterpillars. On the black swallowtail caterpillar, the yellow coloring breaks up the black whereas on the monarch the yellow and black seem to form more straight bands. Once you see them side by side you will never make the mistake of confusing them.  It is interesting how different both of the caterpillars look from the adult butterfly.  You would think the adult butterfly would at least keep the same color as the caterpillar – yellow, black and green.  However, the monarch butterfly develops into an orange and black butterfly while the black swallowtail is almost completely black.  Nature never ceases to amaze me.

Monarch Caterpillar

A:   Thank you for sharing the photo. This is the larvae or caterpillar of the Black Swallowtail butterfly.  The black swallowtail larvae are often confused with the monarch butterfly caterpillar as the colors are quite similar. However, if you look closer you will notice distinctive differences in the yellow and black markings of the two caterpillars. On the black swallowtail caterpillar, the yellow coloring breaks up the black whereas on the monarch the yellow and black seem to form more straight bands. Once you see them side by side you will never make the mistake of confusing them.  It is interesting how different both of the caterpillars look from the adult butterfly.  You would think the adult butterfly would at least keep the same color as the caterpillar – yellow, black and green.  However, the monarch butterfly develops into an orange and black butterfly while the black swallowtail is almost completely black.  Nature never ceases to amaze me.   

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Q: How long do butterflies live?

Monarch Butterflies

Monarch Butterflies

A:  The life span of butterflies varies according to the butterfly.  Larvae generally live longer than the adults.  The longest life spans are associated with the migrating Monarchs, Mourning Cloaks, and some moths which can live for about 6 to 12 months.  The caterpillar of the monarch butterfly feeds only on milkweed. The caterpillar of the mourning cloak feeds in groups on the leaves of deciduous trees, including the willow, elm, hackberry, cottonwood, poplar, rose, birch, hawthorn, and mulberry. The adult mourning cloak butterfly feeds on tree sap and rotting fruit. It may also eat nectar from flowers. The shortest butterfly life spans are found among the Coppers and Small Blues butterflies which live in their adult state for only a few days!