Papilio polyxenes, Eastern Black Swallowtail

Update 2012-09-10: Only one caterpillar remains.

The morning of the day we left on our last road trip – which led us to the Adirondack Hudson, among other places – I saw this in one of our vegetable beds:
Papilio polyxenes, Eastern Black Swallowtail

This is a female Eastern Black Swallowtail Butterfly, Papilio polyxenes. I caught her at the moment she discovered our group of parsley plants (Petroselinum hortense, or P. crispum). She was laying eggs, carefully placing just one under separate leaves of two of the plants.

Papilio polyxenes, Eastern Black Swallowtail, ovipositing on Petroselinum hortense (P. crispum), Parsley

The eggs are tiny. For scale, my thumbnail is about 1/2″ wide.
Egg, Papilio polyxenes, Eastern Black Swallowtail

Eastern Blacks are members of a mimicry complex that includes several other species of large, black or dark brown swallowtails with spots and blue iridescence:

The beautiful Pipevine Swallowtail, Battus philenor, is the model of a Batesian mimicry complex. The members of this complex present a confusing array of blue-and-black butterflies in the summer months in the eastern United States. These include the Spicebush Swallowtail, Black Swallowtail (female), Tiger Swallowtail (dark phase, female), Red-spotted Purple and Diana Fritillary (female).

There is some indication that the Spicebush and Black Swallowtails are also distasteful, so the complex is partly Mullerian as well. In the central and western US, Old World Swallowtail (Papilio machaon, form bairdi), Indra Swallowtail (Papilio indra), and Ozark Swallowtail (Papilio joanae) have dark blue/black forms, probably mimics of the Pipevine Swallowtail.
– BugGuide: Battus philenor – Pipevine Swallowtail

Fortunately, several species in this complex have strong preferences for host plant families: Spicebush prefers Laureaceae, Pipevine prefers Aristolochiaceae. Knowing that the host plant, parsley, is in the Apiaceae, the Carrot/Dill Family, made it easy to quickly identify this butterfly, as the Black prefers plants in this family.

When we returned from vacation, the caterpillars had already hatched. Most of them were big! But some were still underdeveloped. I counted 14 overall.

Their appearance changes dramatically as they mature through each instar, or molting.

Early Instar Caterpillar, Papilio polyxenes, Eastern Black Swallowtail
Early Instar Caterpillar, Papilio polyxenes, Eastern Black Swallowtail
Middle Instar Caterpillar, Papilio polyxenes, Eastern Black Swallowtail
Mid Instar Caterpillar, Papilio polyxenes, Eastern Black Swallowtail
Late Instar Caterpillar, Papilio polyxenes, Eastern Black Swallowtail
Papilio polyxenes, Eastern Black Swallowtail

In the final stage, they are supposed to be mostly green. Several have reached that stage. I’m anxiously waiting for them to form chrysalises. And then, new butterflies! But probably not until next year, as they overwinter as chrysalises, and it’s getting late in the year.

If you have ever wondered how your vegetable plant could get denuded overnight, watch this video of one of the caterpillars feeding. The speed has not been modified, time-lapsed, or sped up. They eat fast!

Update, 2012-09-10

Most of the celery leaves are gone. The plants themselves have survived, and new leaves are emerging from their centers.

Their numbers gradually dwindled since I wrote this post. I couldn’t tell if they were leaving to seek a new food source, or to pupate.

By yesterday, only two large caterpillars remained. I observed one of them leave the plant and start to climb the frame of the raised bed. There was nothing for it where it was heading, so I moved it to part of one plant where leaves remained. It didn’t start feeding, as I expected. Instead, it took off in the opposite direction, toward the tomato plants.

A caterpillar of Papilio polyxenes, Eastern Black Swallowtail, on my hand

I intervened a second time. This time, I removed it to the backyard, where I’m growing Zizia aurea, a native plant in the Apiaceae, in a mixed border. Even if it wasn’t going to feed any more, there are more options of plants, including shrubs, for it to climb and pupate. The disadvantage is that the backyard is much shadier.

Only one caterpillar remains. Soon it will set out on its own, as well, and this adventure will be over, for this year.

My plan for next year is to move some of the Zizia to ground adjacent to the raised bed. I’m hoping both that the it will thrive in a sunnier location, and that the Swallowtails will prefer it as a host plant. We will see.


Related Content

Flickr photo set: Papilio polyxenes, Eastern Black Swallowtail
Gardening with the Lepidoptera, 2011-06-11



Cellophane Bees Return

Cellophane Bee

Colletes thoracicus, Cellophane Bee, is a native species of solitary, ground-nesting bees. Solitary, because each nest is burrowed out by a single queen, who constructs several chambers in which to lay individual eggs. Solitary, yet communal: where they find the right conditions, the nests can be densely packed.Here’s a short video showing the activity on Saturday morning.

This is the third year for what I’ve come to think of as “my little bees.” I noticed the holes earlier last week, and saw all this activity last Saturday, as I was readying for the Plant Swap. This is the earliest in the year that I’ve noticed them.

Make Your Garden Bee-Friendly

These bees took up residence in a “neglected” spot of the garden, one of the benefits of being a lazy gardener/ecosystem engineer. Different species of bees have different requirements. Here are some things you can do to make your garden bee-friendly.

  • Avoid chemicals, especially pesticides.
  • Leave some areas of bare or muddy ground for ground-nesting species.
  • Set aside “wild” areas, even a few square feet.
  • Provide bee nesting houses.
  • Forego that perfect lawn, minimize lawn area, and/or mow less often.
  • Plant a diversity of flowering plants; bees prefer yellow, blue, and purple flowers.
  • Provide a succession of blooming plants throughout the growing season, especially early spring and late fall.
  • Provide a mix of flower shapes to accommodate different bee tongue lengths.
  • Emphasize native perennial plants. (See plant lists under Links below.)
  • Minimize the use of doubled flowers.
  • Select sunny locations, sheltered from the wind, for your flower plantings.
  • Practice peaceful coexistence.


Related Content

Colletes thoracicus (Colletidae), Cellophane Bees, Flickr photo set

Who cares about honeybees, anyway?, 2009-11-04, my guest rant on Garden Rant

Bee Watchers Needed in NYC (and a rant), 2009-06-05
Bees, a Mockingbird, and Marriage Equality, 2009-05-22
Cellophane Bees Return, 2009-05-09
Colletes thoracicus (Colletidae), Cellophane Bees, 2008-05-26



Great Pollinator Project
Understanding Native Bees, the Great Pollinators

Plant Lists

Regional Plant Lists, PlantNative
Plants Attractive to Native Bees, USDA 


Ecoregion Location Maps and Planting Guides, Pollinator Partnership
North American Pollinator Protection Campaign
Urban Bee Gardens, Dr. Gordon Frankie, University of Berkeley
The Xerces Society

Eristalis transversa, Transverse Flower Fly

This beautiful creature is not a bee. It’s a fly of the Syrphidae, a family of flies renowned for bee mimics. This is Eristalis transversa, Transverse Flower Fly. I had noticed it in my garden for the first time this summer. yesterday was the first chance I had to capture some photos of it. Consider this a belated Garden Blogging Bloom Day post, but with a native pollinator as the focal point.

Eristalis transversa, Transverse Flower Fly
Eristalis transversa, Transverse Flower Fly

The flower it’s visiting is Aster novae-angliae ‘Chilly Winds’, a selection of the native New England Aster from Seneca Hills Perennials in upstate New York. This plant has been a pollinator magnet in my backyard native plant garden for weeks. It’s massive and overgrown and poorly placed, crowding out everything else around it. I’ll have to find it another place for next year.


Related Content

Flickr photo set
My BugGuide images


BugGuide page
Seneca Hills Perennials

Robert Guskind Memorial Video

Update 2010.01.03: Corrected all links to the old Gowanus Lounge domain to the new memorial domain.

This is the video that opened the Memorial on Saturday. If you didn’t know Bob, or you’re one of my distant gardener-readers who by now must be wondering why I’ve written so much about him the past few weeks, please watch this.

via Gowanus Lounge

Robert Guskind 1958-2009, Blue Barn Pictures, Inc. Directed by Stephen Duke

As it has been so eloquently stated in the past, the departed live on in the memories of the living.


Related Content

Memorial for Robert “Bob” Guskind, April 4
Remembering Bob, 2009-03-14
Robert Guskind, founder of Gowanus Lounge, 1958-2009, 2009-03-05


At the Robert Guskind Memorial Gathering: Heartfelt Thanks and Fellowship, Gowanus Lounge, 2009-03-06

Growing 387 trees for the National 9/11 Memorial

A video interview with two of the people who are charged with growing nearly 400 trees that will populate the plaza of the National September 11 Memorial at Ground Zero in downtown Manhattan. The Gardeners for Recovery Cobblestone will reside on the street-level plaza somewhere among these trees.

Speaking are Ronald Vega, Project Manager, National September 11 Memorial Park, and Paul Cowie, Consulting Arborist, Paul Cowie & Assoicates, Montville, New Jersey. The “gothic arches” Vega mentions are also reminiscent of the architectural details of the twin towers.

Related Content

Gardeners for Recovery Cobblestone Campaign
My other posts on 9/11


Films, National September 11 Memorial & Museum at the World Trade Center

Rosa Redux: BBG’s latest time-lapse video

Cranford Rose Garden Timelapse at Brooklyn Botanic Garden from Brooklyn Botanic Garden on Vimeo.

Also check out BBG’s latest Flickr group, June is Rose Month, for hundreds of views of the Cranford Rose Garden from its visitors.

Related Posts

Sakura Matsuri this weekend (includes Cherry time-lapse), May 1, 2008
Members Reception in BBG’s Cranford Rose Garden, June 9, 2007


Cranford Rose Garden Timelapse, Brooklyn Botanic Garden
Vimeo (HD)

Photoblog Tribute to Brooklyn

A highlight for me at last night’s Blogfest was the chance to see some of my photos on “the big screen.” This video was produced by Morgan Pehme, Brooklyn Optimist, compiled from submissions from several of Brooklyn’s “photobloggers.” Six of my photos appear from 1:40 to 1:59 in the video.

Related Content

My Best of Brooklyn photo set from which I selected my submission for the video.


Watch the video on YouTube. Select “High quality” and full-screen for best effect.

Here are all the photographers, listed in the order in which they appear in the video.
Tracy Collins
Sharon Kwik
Frank Jump
Kevin Walsh
Hugh Crawford
Joseph Holmes
Lara Wechsler
Will Femia
Heather Letzkus
Robin Lester
Dalton Rooney
Tom Giebel
Adrian Kinloch

Sakura Matsuri this weekend

This weekend is Sakura Matsuri, the Cherry Blossom Festival, at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. The weather cooled down just in time. The cherries are still holding at peak in my neighborhood, but there are drifts of petals swirling around. With rain predicted tonight and through the weekend, we may just get a soggy mess. We’ll see if BBG’s main display holds up for the weekend. I’ll be checking in on them before Botany class this evening, weather permitting.

The purpose of the mysterious camera at the end of the Cherry Walk has been confirmed. BBG released a timelapse video composed of over 3,000 photographs taken with the camera.

2008 Cherry Blossom Timelapse at Brooklyn Botanic Garden from Brooklyn Botanic Garden on Vimeo.

This timelapse was created by Dave Allen, BBG’s Web Manager, from over 3,000 digital photos, one taken every 3 minutes from April 18 to April 26, 2008, of Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s famed Cherry Walk.

The original music is by Jon Solo, a Brooklyn-based musician and producer.

Related Posts



See the 2008 Cherry Blossom Timelapse at Brooklyn Botanic Garden in HD on vimeo
Music by Jon Solo, a Brooklyn-based musician and producer.

Walk Coney Island’s endangered Surfside Gardens with Kinetic Carnival

The Surfside Gardens, one of the endangered community gardens in Coney Island, is the focus of the latest segment of A Walk Around the Blog.

Related Posts

Endangered Coney Island Community Gardens, February 4, 2008


The episode, Kinetic Carnival: Threatened Community Gardens, is available on A Walk Around the Blog and
Gardens To Close as Coney Prepares for Building Boom, Brooklyn Eagle, March 5, 2008