Raising and Hatching an Eastern Black Swallowtail Butterfly
During our gardening adventures this summer, we found some new garden friends! Our carrot patch attracted an Eastern Black Swallowtail butterfly who laid her eggs on the carrot greens. We noticed the swallowtail caterpillars once they were fairly large and beautifully colored with bright green and black bands.
Our first caterpillar friend hatched into a beautiful swallowtail butterfly!
And you know what?
That Eastern Black Swallowtail Butterfly returned and laid NEW eggs!
And one of those stuck around and hatched with us. Hooray for Eastern Black Swallowtail butterflies!
If you love to see butterflies in the garden, you can increase your odds by planting a few awesome plants for them. Our swallowtail butterflies love to lay their eggs in our carrot patch. (We planted rainbow carrots this year, as well as little fingers and danvers carrots.) Typically, though, I’ve heard swallowtails prefer parsley. The two are so close that it seems they’ll happily entrust either for their caterpillar babies’ hatching ground.
The Good, the Bad, and The Ugly – How We Raised a Swallowtail Butterfly
Our first batch of caterpillars arrived by chance! They showed up after we spent many tireless days fighting off the awful cabbage moth caterpillars. Funny story there – my daughters named the cabbage moth (cabbage butterfly?) “Flutter” and another one that might be a different species—“Cupcake.”
In the beginning of gardening season, I was so excited to see how much Flutter and Cupcake liked our garden. I kept telling my kids how cute it was. Until—I found terrible green caterpillars of all sizes decimating our Kale, Broccoli, Cauliflower, and Brussels Sprouts! I of course immediately Googled these green caterpillars to discover they come from those so-called butterflies. And DESTROY everything. Gah!
So naturally, when the first set of bright green, black and white caterpillars arrived on our carrots, I had to find out if they were friend or foe. Thankfully, I learned they would transform into a beautiful swallowtail butterfly! So, I set about making them as comfortable as possible!
Of that first crew, only one stayed around long enough to go through its metamorphosis. We sadly lost one swallowtail caterpillar to the braconid wasp, which is a parasitic wasp that kills caterpillars to nourish its young. I felt so bad for this poor creature. Luckily our first caterpillar hung out and stayed safe. I put a wire wastebasket from the Dollar Tree over top of the carrot patch where it was feeding and that seemed to keep it safe and contained.
A Successful Swallowtail Chrysalis
That caterpillar made its chrysalis right on our carrot greens! The bright green chrysalis had a yellow streak and a visible silk thread connecting it. After about 7-10 days, we came out and saw the butterfly had hatched! It was such an amazing experience to share with my girls, from caterpillar to chrysalis to beautiful swallowtail butterfly!
This butterfly was so friendly and even let my youngest daughter hold it for a bit before it flew off to new adventures. I loved being able to experience this beauty of nature with my girls.
What was even better is that we enjoyed *another* set of swallowtail caterpillars just a week or so later! They hatched in our very same carrot patch! Despite our best efforts with the wire wastebasket to keep them contained, they kept crawling out. We even found them on top of the basket sometimes! Some of these caterpillars must have reached their fourth or fifth instar and crawled away. We came back and they weren’t there!
Amazingly, though, we noticed a brand-new green Chrysalis attached to our basil plant about four feet away! I swiftly bought a butterfly enclosure on Amazon and it worked perfectly.
Hatching a New Eastern Black Swallowtail Butterfly
This chrysalis also hatched into a beautiful butterfly! The butterfly enclosure worked out perfectly and allowed us to get quite a few pictures. The girls named this butterfly “Basil” since it hatched on our basil plant! The sturdy stem must have been an enticing and secure location. So glad we found this one!
This Eastern Black Swallowtail butterfly LOVED my older daughter and would not leave her hand. She held on for probably a good 20 minutes or more. My little one wanted a turn too and that ended up being a bit challenging, but we made it happen.
One of my favorite moments was when the butterfly did actually fly away. Not because it left (my girls were kind of sad to see it go). But, because my four-year-old was SO adorable running around with her “wings” outstretched in joy and harmony.
Tip: Taking Turns Holding the Eastern Black Swallowtail Butterfly
When it’s time for the big butterfly release, you might be able to stretch the moment. Keep everyone calm so the butterfly will also remain calm. You don’t want to scare it away! My daughters both want to hold their new friend, so we have to get creative.
Here are my best tips for taking turns with the butterfly:
- Take Turns Before Release: Allow both kids to take a turn placing a hand calmly inside the enclosure.
- Alternate Who Releases: If hatching multiple caterpillars, alternate who gets to actually release the butterfly from the enclosure.
- Place Hands Close Together: When it’s time for the next person to hold the butterfly, place your hands close together so it can walk from one to the next. Sometimes a curious butterfly will do it! It took a while, but it worked for us.
- Block the Wind: If it happens to be a breezy day, use one hand to block the wind when trying to transfer the butterfly.
The Garden Friend that Keeps on Giving
The other day, I’m pretty sure our Swallowtail butterfly friend came back to visit. We saw a black Swallowtail. Our dog was going berserk, barking at the butterfly fluttering across our deck. We had to get her calmed down so she didn’t scare mama Swallowtail away!
They say these butterflies will lay their eggs in the same place they hatch, themselves. I think that is what happened the other day. Just today, I found three tiny caterpillars on our very small parsley plant. Going to need to supersize that!
Now that we are on our FOURTH set of Swallowtail caterpillars, I am SO glad we bought that butterfly house. I almost wish I got the larger one because my carrot container won’t fit in the small guy. If you hope to raise beautiful swallowtails, I highly recommend these safe and user-friendly habitats. (Using these affiliate links will result in a tiny commission that will go toward our girls’ future at *no* additional cost to you. TY!)
Can’t wait for our latest butterfly to emerge and to help these new caterpillar babies fatten up!
If you love butterflies and caterpillars and enjoy the outdoors with your family, raising a swallowtail butterfly can be a truly enriching experience. Many of the enclosures are available for next-day or two-day shipping. If you notice caterpillars when they’re already quite grown, you may still have time!
Some fun goodies to enhance the experience:
The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
Very Hungry Caterpillar Plushie
Top-Rated Butterfly Enclosures
50th Anniversary The Very Hungry Caterpillar Book
Also, Amazon does offer live baby caterpillars for sale. The selection may vary depending on when you look – it seems current offerings are for painted lady butterflies. You can likely score some swallowtails on eBay, though!