Sometimes the line between a pest insect and a beneficial insect is blurred.
I try to attract pollinators to our yard. We have a yard we refer to as “The Jungle”, with a lot of native plants we’ve allowed to take as much space as they like. We have a wild bee hive in an old oak tree near the back of our yard, and I often see butterflies flitting about. Lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of Black Swallowtail butterflies, which haven’t ever descended on our yard en masse before.
I also have a herb and strawberry garden outside my back door, and often visit it for fresh herbs. Earlier in the summer I was getting a few strawberries for breakfast every morning. I grow echinacea, lavender, parsley, oregano, basil, Thai basil, thyme, mint, chives, stevia, and aloe. I also have a small Bay tree from which I often pick leaves for sauces and soups.
I went out to visit my herb garden, which has been doing exceptionally well this year, only to see that my parsley had been completely decimated. I wondered what had happened. It looked fine yesterday despite the hot weather we’ve been having lately, but this morning it was gone. Not wilted.. gone.
Crouching to get a closer look, I saw several fat caterpillars munching happily on the stalks. Horrors! I rushed inside to do a quick internet search, and discovered the offending critters were none other than Black Swallowtail caterpillars.
Realising that they would be good pollinators when they reach adulthood, and that my parsley was already gone, I decided to let them stay, and went back to my computer to see what else in my herb garden would be eaten and to see if there was another spot in my yard they might like better..
Long answer short: There is nothing in my garden that is as delicious to Swallowtail caterpillars as plants in the carrot family are.. a group that includes parsley – and they’ve eaten it all.
I’m sure that when mom Black Swallowtail laid her eggs, she thought that my small patch of parsley would be perfect for her hungry babies.I’m sure she didn’t stop to consider whether there would be enough parsley to last them thought to the time when they go through their transformation. This leaves me with a dilemma: Do I go out and buy bunches of parsley to help these caterpillars make it through to the cocoon stage and into adulthood?
by Kelly Duncan