Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Saving the Anise Swallowtail Butterfly

My first encounter with the anise plant was when I was a child at a rental home. My father had a friend who encouraged him to become a partner in purchasing and renting out a home in Benicia, California. With a rental to take care of, I often became a member of the “weeding squad”. If you have never seen mature anise plants, they are very tall weeds that send up one main stalk with fern-like leaves coming from the sides and roots that seem to tunnel into the center of the earth. If you rub your hands on the leaves or stem, they will smell reminiscent of black licorice. Over the years I helped to maintain that yard, I came to respect the weedy nature of this vigorous plant.

Additionally, as a child I also really enjoyed “raising” small insects. This mainly consisted of finding small caterpillars in the wild and continuing to provide them their foodplant until the caterpillar advanced to pupae or chrysalis stage. Eventually, I started seeing butterflies fluttering around the anise plants and began finding their young.

An Anise swallowtail juvenile caterpillar

Anise grows prolifically in the hills around where I live. It is also found in local abandoned lots. While gardening at my friend's home with the chicken garden, I noticed that he had quite a few anise plants growing in his yard, so I looked around for a few caterpillars. My goal was initially to see if there were any caterpillars on the plants, but once I saw them, I decided it would be wonderful for my youngest to experience the joy of raising these butterflies, so I gathered a few of them from my friend’s yard (with his permission) and began raising them.

The Egg is very small, on the anise in front of my index finger

The black and yellow butterfly light cream-colored eggs on the ferny leaves. Over time, a black caterpillar hatches out, which turns to a black and white (bird dropping) color, then to a more striped pattern as they grow. Later I went to gather some more of the caterpillars, but they had all been killed by something, so I am glad that I saved the few I did.

One really nice thing about anise is that cuttings from the plant will last a long time in a flower vase.

Part way through raising the caterpillars (around the time they began turning into chrysalises) I went on a family trip and left them all with a friend. By the time we returned, all but one or two had hatched.

The few pictures of the adult butterflies were of the last one we released. My daughter releasing them quite a lot (or at least she posed really well).

As people continue to put more and more non-native plants into their yard, there will be less and less sources of food for birds and other wildlife. It is important to keep some of the native plants and insects we have so that we can support wildlife and preserve these wonders for future generations.

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