Caterpillar rescue

Swallowtail caterpillars say thank you for saving them.

Late summer is butterfly season at Little Cedar. It’s also caterpillar rescue season.

As you probably already know, Monarch butterflies are in trouble, and I believe it’s backyard and community gardeners who will eventually save the day. At least that’s what I tell myself as I bring Monarch eggs and tiny caterpillars indoors every day. It takes commitment, a whole lot of milkweed and trust in the process to bring these tiny creatures to flight. If you’re interested, I can write another post about bringing Monarch caterpillars/eggs indoors and raising them. Just let me know.

But, in the meantime, why don’t you read my friend, Kylee Baumle’s, new book, The Monarch: Saving Our Most-Loved Butterfly. I know she worked hard on it, and I think you’d like it especially if you want to save Monarchs. And, really, who doesn’t want to save Monarchs?

Cover of The Monarch: Saving Our Most-Loved Butterfly. by Kylee Baumle.
Cover of The Monarch: Saving Our Most-Loved Butterfly. by Kylee Baumle.

Today, though, I want to tell you about a caterpillar rescue of another kind–my epic battle to save some Swallowtail caterpillars from a very hungry red wasp–Polistes rubiginosusI think. I don’t claim to be a wasp expert.

I do try to love all of God’s creatures–I really do–but red/paper wasps really irritate me. Maybe, because they’re just so damn mean the hotter the weather gets. I know that’s my excuse.

Monarchs are not the only butterflies laying eggs on various plants in the garden. In my vegetable garden, especially the raised potager, a Swallowtail mother laid about a billion–okay, I’m exaggerating–eggs on three parsley plants. This year, I planted six or seven parsley, many dill and a pot of rue in my garden just for Swallowtail butterflies. If I got a little parsley and dill for my supper, that was good too. I’ve been watching these little munchers for several days now. I could bring them inside, but they seem to have an easier time of it outdoors than Monarchs. Plus, they aren’t as predictable–once they reach chrysalis stage–as Monarch butterflies are. Sometimes, Swallowtails take all winter to become butterflies.

I don’t know which type of Swallowtail laid her eggs. I have many different ones bouncing about the garden. If I had to guess, I would say it’s a Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenesis), Oklahoma’s state butterfly, because of the markings, but that part doesn’t matter. I kept an eye on these little critters because I knew they were going to quickly run out of parsley, and my dill was finished for the year. So, I pulled a few weeds around the bronze fennel in a completely different part of the garden and waited for them to grow too large for their habitat.

Parsley consumed by Swallowtail caterpillars. I'm not going to show you the partially consumed caterpillar. Gross.
Parsley consumed by Swallowtail caterpillars. I’m not going to show you the partially consumed caterpillar. Gross.

Today, I realized was caterpillar moving day. I came outside to find one caterpillar half eaten, so I knew they needed a new leafy residence.

Soon, it instead turned into a full-scale caterpillar rescue.

One of the large swallowtail caterpillars I moved to the bronze fennel.
One of the large swallowtail caterpillars I moved to the bronze fennel.

I was moving them in fives because that’s about all I can handle. I gently pulled them from parsley stalks and took them over to the three, large bronze fennel plants working feverishly to convince them it was their idea to get on the new plant. It works better if I don’t handle them too much. When I made my third or fourth trip, I saw a very large, red wasp circling the area. She buzzed me a couple of times, and I ignored her as I grabbed five more. Usually, I don’t get stung if I’m not near the wasp nest. I knew what she wanted, and she was waiting very impatiently for me to move out of the way.

Then, disaster struck. I came back to find her munching on a large caterpillar. I kept moving more caterpillars hoping she was too engrossed in her meal to come after me. Of course, I didn’t have my camera the entire time. I was too busy to take pictures.

Bronze fennel with finished Phlox paniculata behind. The caterpillars being green yellow and black really blend in with fennel foliage.
Bronze fennel with finished Phlox paniculata behind. The caterpillars being green yellow and black really blend in with fennel foliage. They are much harder to see on here than on the parsley.

After four or five more trips, she was quite irritated with me. She left her meal and buzzed me, but I was really determined she would not win today. She went back to her meal, and I picked up my berry-colored Dramm Touch‘N Flow Revolver Spray Gun, turned it to jet and doused her. You can sure slow down a wasp, especially one not paying attention with a steady and hard spray of water. She crawled out of the bed and stumbled around. Again, I took her out, and I daresay I enjoyed it.

“Take that for all the times I’ve been stung,” I said, “Here’s another spray for all the caterpillars you’ve munched today.”

Red wasp/paper wasp after I sprayed her with water.
Red wasp/paper wasp after I sprayed her with water. See the Swallowtail caterpillar in the upper right corner? I saved it.

I sprayed her long enough to grab three more cats with my right hand in a whole new definition of multitasking.

No, wasp lovers, I didn’t kill the wasp with water. She was soon back searching through the empty parsley stalks looking for more prey, but in the meantime, I’d relocated everyone.

Swallowtail caterpillars relocated on rue.
Swallowtail caterpillars relocated on rue.

A lot of bug-eat-bug happens here but sometimes, it’s about sticking up for the little guys. Today was caterpillar rescue day, and this little caterpillar raised his/her thoracic legs in a fond thank you–at least I like to think so.

Swallowtail caterpillars say thank you for saving them.
Swallowtail caterpillars say thank you for saving them. Caterpillar rescue.