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Creature Feature - Anise Swallowtails
The ANISE SWALLOWTAIL BUTTERFLY (Papilio zelicaon) is native to North America, ranging from British Columbia southeast to North Dakota, south to southern California, Arizona, New Mexico; Baja California; and Mexico. A rare number stray to central Nebraska and eastern North Dakota. Anise Swallowtails belong to the Family Papilionidae which includes swallowtails and parnassians. Their Genus is Papilio and Species is zelicaon.
Some may call it, "that darn Parsley Worm," when in fact its not a worm at all, it's actually the caterpillar (larva) of a beautiful swallowtail! Many gardeners mistake this fun and beautiful butterfly caterpillar for a pest, as its host plant (caterpillar plant) does include edible garden favorites (parsley, fennel, dill, and even the tops of carrots), but the fun of having these caterpillars and adult butterflies in your garden far outweighs the cost to your edible plants. If you plant it, they will come, so just be sure to plant ENOUGH to feed both the family and the swallowtails and you'll enjoy the balance from both.
ANISE SWALLOWTAIL FACTS
- Larvae start out black with a white band but after a couple of molts (shedding) they turn green (see photo below) and will be well camouflaged by their host plants.
- When feeling threatened, caterpillars react by deploying a scent gland (antennae like) from their head which creates a strong odor that smells much like the herb they're eating and is used to scare off predators. Kids just love to witness this predatory defense first hand.
- Caterpillars can be raised successfully indoors in a netted habitat with fresh garden clippings of fennel or parsley in a water bottle/jar with plastic/mesh over the top to prevent caterpillar drownings. Cuttings may last 7-10 days in fresh water.
- An anise chrysalis will generally emerge within 14 days, unless it is late in the season (October-November) which will likely cause them to "overwinter" in the pupa state. This means that they may not become butterflies until spring (April-May), so keep them protected over winter. In some instances, swallowtails have been found to stay in chrysalis form for up to seven years if food becomes scarce.
- After emerging as adults, anise swallowtails will be ready to begin their garden journey very quickly, so set them free. With six usable legs (unlike the monarch with only 4 plus two club feet), they feel pretty darn creepy crawling up your nose (pictured at top of page)!
►Butterflies and Moths of North America: to identify butterflies in your region -
►Butterflies and Their Larval Food Plants -
►NABA’s Basics of Butterfly Gardening -