A Messy Garden Can Be a Breeding Ground For Butterflies

My vegetable garden is failing, but that may be good for the beneficials and butterflies. By letting vegetables flower and go to seed, they might attract interesting creatures. I’m becoming familiar with the bugs that visit the garden and learning the good (beneficial) from the troublemakers. Nature is the way it is for a reason and I rarely like to interfere.

Because it’s tough to grow vegetables in Florida summer months, I’ve let my cherry tomato vines grow to produce only a few little tomatoes which mostly keep the cardinals happy. They pick through the skins to get the seeds! My fennel is once again tall and I’ve found that it has become a nursery for the Swallowtail butterfly.

Fennel Flowers Become A Swallowtail Butterfly Nursery

Swallowtail larvae on fennel flowers
Many tiny worms on a fennel flower head

I’m not eating my fennel because it is often home to eggs and worms of the Black Swallowtail butterfly. I’ve seen the butterfly land to deposit eggs, but seldom spot the eggs.

As I scouted the plant (it’s taller than I am) for signs of worms, I noticed that the flower heads were full! Nearly every flowering part of the plant held larvae in some stage. And near the bottom of the plant I found one large caterpillar who has managed to avoid becoming bird food.

Swallowtail worm on fennel
Parsley worm which will become a black swallowtail butterfly

It used to be that the Swallowtail would lay eggs on my parsley. I documented the stages of the Black Swallowtail, eggs through hatching, on a previous post. Now that I have begun to grow fennel, I think the butterfly likes using it better than the parsley to deposit her eggs. This could be due to the flowers and the large size of the plant.

Who doesn’t love a butterfly? They don’t live long lives, but serve a purpose as pollinators and as a meal for birds and lizards. I really hope to see the lifecycle of these little hatchlings continue.

Update on the caterpillars

I have read that these types of crawlers don’t appeal to birds, the cardinals say otherwise. Each day I found fewer and fewer caterpillars feeding on the fennel. I first counted nearly 50 worms! But the following day I saw only about half that number. Now I find NO caterpillars at all left on this plant!

Cardinals are the birds I see most in my garden and I have witnessed their cherry tomato thievery. They are also very good about cleaning out the bugs – including butterfly larvae. But, that is nature for you. I will see no new butterflies but the birds are very well fed.

Beneficials (and Baddies) I’ve Seen

Beneficials, or good bugs, will remove unwanted pests from the garden. A year or so ago I found many aphids on my squash, hibiscus, citrus and in other places. I also saw little black and red bugs. Because I didn’t recognize the bug I looked it up online. Come to find out it was ladybug larvae. It was there because of the aphids, which are it’s food.

My next-door neighbor recently told me that she was trying to kill “black and red bugs” in her garden. I warned her that they might be beneficial ladybugs.

You want beneficials in the yard and garden. They keep things in order naturally. If my neighbor kills her “black and red” bugs she will be doing more harm than good.

ladybug larvae
After larvae eats… attaches to leaf and curls up. It will change and become an aphid-eating ladybug!

With the internet close at hand, we can easily look up insects and find out which they are, harmful or beneficial. It’s worth knowing if you want harmony in the yard.

More beneficial bugs you may encounter are the Assassin bug (this one can sting a person), bees and butterflies (as pollinators), parasitic wasps, lacewings, and many more.

The truth is that we usually must see a problem before we see a beneficial. If the aphids (or other pests) are not present, neither will the good bugs come to stay.

Black Swallowtail Butterfly Eggs, Larvae and Worms

Finding the Swallowtail butterfly in it’s life stages in my garden

I’ve been watching as the Black Swallowtail butterfly flits around my vegetable garden laying eggs on the parsley and fennel. I took the camera out and got these photos. Everything looked good until the bees showed up!

In the first photo here you can see two eggs and one tiny black caterpillar.  In the second photo see a more mature caterpillar.  All these are currently found in my garden – all the stages.  Right now I don’t think there is a pupa or chrysalis. Earlier this year a green one formed on the lower stalk of the fennel. They seem to prefer fennel over the parsley, although they are also known as parsley worms.

swallowtail butterfly eggs and larvae
Swallowtail butterfly eggs and larvae in fennel leaf

Grow some fennel if you want to encourage the Swallowtail to visit your garden.  The worms will eat down the vegetables, so plant extra to allow them to feed.  Check for eggs and worms before picking herbs!


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Worm on the fennel

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Worm on parsley

The “parsley worm” is so pretty, and fun to watch. They will twist and reach for those strands of fennel. In fact I was watching one the other day, and decided to go inside and get my iPhone. By the time I got back out to the fennel, a wasp was eating the caterpillar! I took the video below as one wasp, or hornet or whatever it was, got kicked off the meal and another took over.
I was tempted to pull off my shoe and kill those bees, but it’s nature, so I controlled myself.

Between the hornets and the birds, it is quite amazing that any caterpillars get the chance to turn into a butterfly.

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Newly hatched black Swallowtail on basil flowers

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The Swallowtail butterfly hovers over my garden

And here she is, back at the garden laying eggs on the fennel and parsley. There you have it, the full cycle of the life of the Swallowtail, found in my backyard.
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For more great photos with life stages of the Swallowtail check out the post on Our Habitat Garden.

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