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The Basics:

  • Does it sting? No 

  • What does it eat? Parsley, carrots, and dill

  • Will it seriously damage plants or trees? Sometimes they can eat a lot of carrot greens.

  • Is it rare? No, but it isn't always common in all areas.

  • What does it turn into? The gorgeous black swallowtail butterfly.

  • Can you raise it to an adult? Yes, if you give it an upright stick to pupate on.

Black Swallowtail

This caterpillar looks a lot like the monarch caterpillar -- and that may not be an accident. The monarch is most likely "protected" by the bitter sap of the milkweed plant that it eats because some of the toxic compounds in the sap become incorporated into the insect's tissues.

The black swallowtail caterpillar eats the leaves of carrots and other Umbelliferae species, which also gives them protection, so it may be that the two species copy each other because they're both poisonous. Birds and other predators might leave them both alone, putting the color pattern to good use!

These caterpillars can be kept in a safe, unbreakable habitat designed for raising caterpillars. Make sure you give them plenty of the host plant—for this species, carrot or dill—that you found them on.

This attractive caterpillar turns into a beautiful, big butterfly known as the black swallowtail.

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Black Swallowtail: Papilio polyxenes

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