PeekAButterflyAre we totally sure caterpillars aren’t related to skunks? Well, maybe not all caterpillars, maybe just the worm form of the Eastern Black Swallowtail?

Think about it. They’re both striped. They’re both fearless. And they both stink the high heavens when provoked. Oh, didn’t know that noxious habit of this lovely butterfly did you?  Well, I sure do.  Or did.  Or…let me explain.

So, there I was, minding my own gardener business, checking out the herbs, noticing how lush things were even in July when all of a sudden, out of nowhere, a caterpillar attacked me. Okay, that’s not entirely true. It started the evening before when I first spotted six fat proto-butterflies who had already polished off half the parsley and were finishing up their final pre-larval dinner with the other half.*

Darn, there goes the tabbouleh!

Well, no ‘pillar-on-person violence occurred that night but early the next day, the bugs upped the ante.  Right after breakfast, I noticed the handsome critters had scattered–one or two still huddled near the parsley, some were crawling among the speckled lettuce and a big one had settled on my cauliflower. My only cauliflower. That is to say, the only cauliflower that might have a chance of survival of the six I actually planted. Did these caterpillars eat cauliflower? I didn’t think so but, sleep-deprived as I was, it seemed a good idea to just, you know, remove the fella all the same.  (As I said, sleep-deprived.)

It’s true, however, that I was awake enough to remember last year .  That’s when I initially learned that these colorful insects packed a powerful deterrent odor.  I quickly decided, therefore, that plucking them by hand would *not* be a strategy.  I didn’t want to get close, not even with gloves.**  Taking a 6-foot stake (right, no ten foot poles available!), I then clumsily tried to poke the pest off the pampered brassica. I poked. I prodded. I poked some more. Well, two things happened. One, the darn thing reared up and unleashed the most eye-watering gosh-awful scent that only a mama skunk would cherish and, two, it didn’t move one centimeter on the cauliflower.

Another year, another dumb farmer move.

Retreating in some disarray to the inside of the house (Hurry! Shut the windows! No, that wasn’t me!), I plotted my next move. Herein the entire plot: Leave the caterpillar alone.

As I spent the rest of the day bathing in tomato juice (no, I made that up, it was a spiritual bath of mostly annoyance and regret), I didn’t return to the scene of the parsley crime until much later. Where no criminal worms could be found.

What? Absconded, did they?*** Couldn’t detect any in the lettuce but, wait, is that what I think it is? Yes, indeedy. One of the plumpest (possibly my nemesis) already in pre-pupa pose, attached to a shingle on the side of the house. The sunny side, I might add. Taking pity (and my camera, wasn’t gonna miss this!), I added more shade and began documenting the process. Having read that it took about two weeks for metamorphosis to occur, I figured the least the herb thief could do was pose for a photo essay.

I’m sure you’ve already guessed the ending but here goes anyway. The first 24 hours are the most exciting (see below); the next fourteen days incredibly boring until the final hour of hatching.

Which I missed.

Doesn’t that stink?!!!




*Took about two weeks for the parsley to come back. Just enough time for a butterfly to return, lay more eggs, that hatch into more caterpillars…hey!

**Yes, call me a worm wuss.

***They left their famous giant green pellets as a final nose-thumb, too.



Copyright 2014, Lori Fontanes