Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Black Swallowtail and Green Saddleback Caterpillars

From In the Garden

Finally! Late August saw the caterpillars showing up here at Tiger Gardens. I thought this date was very late when compared to last year's arrival of swallowtail caterpillars, but when I went back and looked at my Metamorphosis post I found that the caterpillar hatched out in a jar hatched on the 19th of September. It would have taken about two to three weeks for it to hatch so the timing this year must be right.

I always find swallowtail caterpillars munching on parsley here in my garden. I grow it for this very reason and love the caterpillars. Now if some monarchs will just find that butterfly weed I planted...

From In the Garden

The above pictured caterpillar is the larva of a stout moth that is quite common to the United States and it also made its appearance here recently. I have been stung by these poisonous barbs on more than one occasion and I can tell you it is most painful. It is akin to having boiling water poured on your skin and will hurt and sting for a good amount of time after you are stung. The bad thing about these caterpillars is that you rarely see them because number one, you are not looking for them, and number two, even if you are they are hiding in places you'd least expect to find them. I found a whole passel of them (along with a sawfly larva) munching on my Common Witchhazel (Hamamelis virginiana). The only way I spotted them was because I noticed half of the plant was gone; chewed right down to the leaf ribs. This munching had not been going on long but the damage was pretty severe. I was most lucky that when I turned over a leaf to look for the culprits I did not accidentally brush up against one of these caterpillars. They are dangerous and you must use care in the garden to keep from getting stung.

Can you tell why they are known as saddleback caterpillars? That dot on their back clearly gives it away and while it looks nice and smooth you would not ever want to touch one or brush up against one. They are not at all friendly like the black swallowtail caterpillars. Nonetheless, I left these guys alone-for now.

What kind of caterpillars are munching....

in your garden....?

I want to tell Marnie a big thanks for helping me make Skeeter's picture fit into the frame on the header of this blog. She was kind enough to send me some code from her template; which I could paste into my template and it made the picture fit-finally! It only took two years but hey-it's there now! Thanks!

Please add your input to my survey on my sidebar. Do you soil test or not? I am working on a post for this and I'd be interested in seeing how many folks soil test. Thanks.


  1. Hi Tina, that stout moth looks unreal--I love that bright green coloration! I had SOME kind of caterpillar on my parsley for several days and was all excited. Then it just disappeared. Boo!

  2. I need to be checking my parsley! I doesn't sound like I would want the stinging foe in my garden. Ouch!

  3. Love watching all caterpillars!!!

  4. I noticed the header right away!! Cool! So are you going to share the info? I know my method is so hit or miss. hahha
    I think that saddleback is so interesting looking.

  5. Those Monarchs are bound to find you soon enough, if I was a betterfly I'd hang out there! Great photo of that pretty little guy~

  6. That prickly caterpillar look dangerous! I've been waiting for the caterpillars, but none yet. I haven't seen hardly any butterflies. Not good.

  7. Stout caterpillar really looks like an ordinary caterpillar wrapped with a minute colorful T-shirt!!... interesting.

    Over here, small brown caterpillars make our little lime tree their permanent home. A slightly bigger green caterpillar occasionally appear on green veggies with a peculiar habit of piling up droppings like pyramid..... Cheers ~bangchik

  8. Good morning all!

    Monica, The cats were most likely swallowtails and have disappeared into chrysalises! You'll have lots of butterflies soon. The sad thing is that by the time we find the cats they are very close to turning so that is why they disappear so fast.

    Dawn, Yes, do check your parsley. Some folks have swallowtails eat lots of dill but the dill here is rather sparse so they enjoy my parsley. Let us know.

    Darla, They are wonderful as was your monarch series.

    Janet, No secret really as I still don't know which part of code would work with which. I just pasted it in and finally the frame fits! I was looking at other blogs last night, including your header photo and I tell you whatever method you are using is working because your header photo fits wonderfully.

    Heather, I hope they do! The butterflies are here but not cats:(

    Lzyjo, Hang in there. The butterflies are still out and about so some cats are bound to show up. Fall seems to be a good year. Just watch out for the saddlebacks.

    Bangchik and Kakdah, That saddleback does look like it has a shirt on. You almost want to touch it too-if you could avoid the prickers. Maybe your green caterpillar is just being polite and keeping its droppings in one area?

  9. Hi Tina, the saddle back caterpillar is unusual. Never seen one here and after hearing they sting, I'm glad. The sawfly larva are a real pest. Always underneath the leaves and you don't know they are there until lots of damage is done.

  10. It looks like someone was putting markings on these creatures with a little paint brush!
    P.S.I added my input to your survey.

  11. Hi Tina, I've never heard of the Saddle back. Sure glad too if it stings.
    I watched yesterday morning a few moths-1 butterfly but it wouldn't stay still long enough for me to see it good.
    Hope everyone has a wonderful day.

  12. we have a whole lot of these misery-makers here too, Tina. I know I should be thinking into the future when they'll become beautiful b'flies but its so tough when you're itching and scratching from accidental contact with one.

  13. I've never seen one of these stout moths, and from what you say, I'm glad I haven't! I planted parsley and fennel this year for the first time specifically for the caterpillars. I've had lots of the swallowtail cats on the fennel, but nothing on the parsley. The grandkids think they're cute:)

  14. Hi Tina, I forgot to plant the ruffly parsley which these caterpillars seem to love. Next year for sure! What's nibbling in my garden~~the Southern Crimson Moth has the tiniest cat that is eating salvias! But even it can't eat all the buds! Are you going to be in town any time soon?


  15. I love your new header. It's gorgeous.

    It's been a while but I've been stung by cats before too. I've never seen a saddleback caterpillar before, although if I looked closer I could probably find some.

    I often see Monarch cats on the milkweed, but I think the Eastern Tiger Swallowtails are probably in the Tulip Poplar and Cherry Trees. I will have to check out the Dog Fennel for Eastern Black Swallowtail cats.

  16. Thanks for the pic of the Saddle Back. I've never seen one before and I always enjoy seeing something new.

    I wonder who the jockey is?

  17. Wow, I had no idea there were caterpillars with stinging spikes. I haven't seen many yet, but my focus has been on the veggie garden. I'm just starting with flowers. Dill and parsley are on the plan for next year. I planted parsley last year and discovered this year that it's a perennial. I had to take it out because it grew over my paths and attracted wasps. Next year, I'll plant it somewhere more appropriate.

    I answered the soil test question, but I had to think about it. I did test last year, because it was my first year gardening and I was told to test. Interestingly, those who told me to test have never tested their own soil in all their years of gardening. Here, there's no reason not to. The test is free except the cost of mailing the sample. I didn't do it this year, but will again next year. I'm curious to see how much it has changed, if any.

  18. I have not seen many cats this year...maybe they do not like a rainy summer. The slugs and J Beetles have loved it as I have never seen so many.

  19. Beautiful caterpillar photos! Can't wait to see the butterfly pics.

  20. I rarely see the caterpillars, just the butterflies. First I said never, but every year I see a pale yellow fuzzy caterpillar, but don't know what it turns into.

  21. They are both such interesting caterpillars. I never see caterpillars around here. I think I'm going to go out and really search for them in the next day or so and see where some may be hiding.

  22. The Stout moth looks downright odd and ugly. Quite unreal. Perhaps it has obviously got an inferiority complex which makes it bad tempered and poisonous!

  23. Dave, Please do.

    Marnie, I had never even heard of sawflies until they attacked my birch tree-two times last year. They've appeared a bit this year too but I take care of them soon. Thanks again for sharing Minima with me.

    Tatyana, They really are colorful and nicely done. Thanks for adding input.

    Lola, Hang tough-those eyes will begin feeling better soon but in the meantime do rest them. The good thing about caterpillars is they don't move so fast and we can enjoy them more than the butterflies.

    Sunita, The pain just isn't worth the joy of the mature butterfly I tell you so I'm with you.

    Rose, I think the swallowtails like the parsley as a consolation prize. They'd much rather dill and fennel so I need to add some next year.

    Gail, Sometimes those caterpillars can be so tough to see for sure. I will be in town tomorrow for school and maybe next Tuesday for PPS. Are you going?

    Sweetbay, Thanks! Skeeter took the picture and finally I think it is in there nicely. It is a truly a picture of being 'in the garden'-at least I think so. Be careful if you go caterpillar hunting.

    WiseAcre, Welcome and hello! I am not sure on who the jockey is but I think it an evil little moth that takes great pleasure in riding this little beast-it must have armor on too to do it safely!

    Kate, Hello and welcome! It is great Connecticut does soil tests for free. Not so here as we have to pay-$7 per test plus mailing. Beware of the stingers on certain caterpillars-they are around as I found out the hard way.

    Mom, Oh yes I bet those slugs are in heaven with all the moisture. We've had a fair share of them here too and urgh! I like them even less than the stinging cats.

    Karrita, The cats are good posers!

    Leedra, I bet your pale yellow fuzzy guy is a woolly cat of the Virginian tiger moth. I've seen them here too. They are cute but I don't touch them either. I think they are harmless but just to be safe. Try this link: and see if that is them.

    Catherine, The first sign of cats is a plant half chewed and eaten to death. My poor witch hazel is a mess. The parsley, no big deal but the witch hazel I am not happy. Look around on your beautyberry too as that is a host for some caterpillars. I bet you have several.

    EasyGardener, That stout is really something. I was quite pleased with the photograph since these cats are rather small and known as 'slug' caterpillars. It is evil tempered for sure and well protected.

  24. The pictures of the cats are great! The green backdrop really makes the pics pop! Great choice on background color..

    I have never seen the Saddle Cat before. Sure is an interesting one with bright colors! I have always heard to never touch a cat with fuzzy hair as they may be stingers. Also stay clear of things which are brightly colored as they may be poisonous as well. I do hope to see a Saddleback some day though but will remember to stay clear and never touch....

    I spotted some green wormy things on the tomato plants this morning. The maters have about played out so I will let them munch away.... I should have taken a few of the dozens of Swallowtail cats I found a while back and put them into a jar to observe. Maybe next year. They are now beautiful butterflies and all over the butterfly bushes…

    Push mowed the yard, hand watered the gardens and spray washed the siding on the house today so my arms are ready for a rest now....

  25. What a gorgeous caterpillar! It’s good you keep such records – I admire that about you. I could do without the stout moth one – like our browntail moth caterpillars in Maine.

    Sorry to be so late to visit – out all day. Soccer season.

  26. Ouch Tina, I have run into that fellow several times myself. It pays to always wear gloves when touching plants at this time of year. Lots of stings. Ice is the best medicine, as soon as possible held on for about five to ten minutes. We are still waiting for the swallowtail catts. Fennel, dill, parsley, carrots, Queen Anne's Lace, all untouched. Glad to see you have yours well fed. :-)

  27. Joanne, It really is a neat caterpillar.

    Donna, Thanks.

    Skeeter, Those saddlebacks are definitely different. You may have the sphinx moth caterpillars on your maters. I'd just leave them too. They do eat a lot but are kind of neat. I'm planning to get a butterfly cage to save the cats next year-you really must do it too. You don't need anything fancy but it makes it easier to see them. Darla did several posts on her monarchs and the process is fascinating.

    Sarah, The blog is a really great recordkeeping tool for me. I enjoy looking back at the old posts because I am not so organized at home. Have fun at soccer.

    Frances, These cats are such a shock! I sting just thinking of their stings. Soon hopefully you'll see tons of cats-non-stinging varieties. I was thinking that they came earlier in the season but not so. Better late than never I guess.

  28. Tina,
    Lots of cats in the garden this year, but I am not such a great identifier.
    This photo looks like the cat was painted!

  29. so glad you are getting the cats at your house...i love seeing them in all shapes and sizes. that stout moth looks like it has a saddle ready for riding.
    happy september.

  30. So that's a swallowtail caterpillar? I've seen one recently but didn't know what it was.
    I had no idea there were stinging caterpillars out there, good to know, since I'm always trying to pick up the critters. They are amazing looking though. The only caterpillars I get in my yard are the ones that make the tents in the trees. I put up with them, but I don't find them cute anymore.

  31. I have seen caterpillars but I don't know what kind of butterflies they've turned into. Maybe I should post the pictures. Great shots there, Tina. The swallowtail caterpillar is most beautiful.

    I haven't tested the soil here. It'll be interesting to see the inputs (and learn)!

  32. Great pictures - really makes that bug look spectacular!

  33. These are great photos Tina. I love that stout moth ~ so interesting looking. I've only seen sphinx moth caterpillars in my garden this year despite having fennel, parsley, asclepias, etc., planted for them. Maybe someday.... right?

  34. Hi Tina, I'm loving the new look of the blog and the header photo is great! That is one ugly caterpillar (second photo). He looks pretty dangerous with those barbs. I've been looking for signs of caterpillars here but no luck. :(

  35. I'm not seeing many caterpillars so far this year. I planted a whole bunch of both curly and Italian parsley, and fennel across the street for the caterpillars, but haven't seen any on them. I have seen a couple swallowtail cats on the parsley I want to cook with at home, though. I'm very careful when picking so I don't get a stem that's being munched on. I've seen signs of munching on my milkweed, but no cats there, either. I am continuing to see 2 to 4 Monarch butterflies every day, and yesterday, I counted 8 on the Mexican sunflowers across the street! I wonder if mine are being joined by some migrating ones. I need to get myself registered as a Monarch Waystation.

    Awesome photos! I'll be more careful turning leaves to see what's eating them. I'm thinking tomato hornworms sting, too.

  36. I like the photo for the header. I'd love to have that code. The only way I got my header centered was by putting the title in a separate spot.

  37. I have a saddleback eating my japanese plum tree. Well almost all the leaves are gone now. Just wondering how long they live?
    Here is my picture.

  38. I have a saddleback eating my Japanese plum tree. Most of the leaves are missing now. Do you know how long they live until it is cocoon time?
    Here is my picture of the saddleback.

  39. Threadbeaur, They shouldn't live more than a week before pupating but that week can be awful hard on the bushes the cats are eating. These are not caterpillars you want in your garden-at least I don't as the sting hurts. Thanks for stopping by.

  40. Besides the wonderful Monarch caterpillars we have on our milkweed we also have wooly bear caterpillars. Today we found this caterpillar I have never seen before and I can't find anything online that tells me what it is! It is a dark green with a burgundy red along the top. It has white or light stripes from end to end, but no tail and now light marking on his face. Any ideas?

  41. Jodi, I wish I could help you but I'm not too good at identifying caterpillars or even butterflies as far as that goes. There are some online butterfly identification websites that you can send a picture to and they can help you. I'd try that route or my local extension agent if all else fails. Sorry.

  42. Jodi,
    The same caterpillar looks different at different stages, or instars. I wonder if what you are seeing will look more familiar when it gets bigger.