Caterpillars of native moths and butterflies were one of the subjects of study by Lourdes Science Camp students under the direction of Lourdes Life Lab naturalist, Linda Penn. Students discovered eggs on host plants and watched as they developed into caterpillars and learned about each of the seven instars in the cycle.
Each of the students were able to select a caterpillar to take home and raise. “These students will experience a sense of wonder as they watch their caterpillars complete their life cycles,” Mrs. Penn said.
Mrs. Penn pointed out the importance of moths and butterflies. These beautiful native moths provide a survival benefit for the young of songbirds. Upon hatching, the baby birds’ food for the first three days must be the caterpillars of native species. A pair of healthy giant silkworm moths such as the Luna, Cecropia or Polyphemus can provide between 200 and 1,200 eggs per brood. Only about one to three percent of these will survive to the adult stage of moth while the 97 to 99 percent of the hatched caterpillars of these native moths will become the food source for songbird young and help sustain the lives of insectivorous animals.
Mrs. Penn discovered an excellent host plant for Swallowtail butterflies thanks to Mary Machon of Ben Sell Greenhouse. The Eastern Black Swallowtail favors depositing eggs on host plants belonging to the parsley family including parsley, dill, carrot and celery. When Ms. Machon planted a new seed variety that combined parsley and celery, and the plants matured Swallowtails were attracted to the plants. She and her son, Isaac, noticed an abundance of small yellow eggs on the leaves and stems of the parcel. Mrs. Penn lined the Lourdes Life Lab garden walkway with the parcel. She found the Swallowtails who were visiting the garden plants for nectar prolifically placed eggs on the parcel. “Some of these caterpillars will overwinter in their butterfly chrysalis to become the Swallowtails of Spring.”