Sunday, September 9, 2007

Beauty and the Beast

I saw this caterpillar chewing on my fennel plant yesterday (9-9-07). My first instinct was to kill it -- but just for an instant. I knew it was the larva of a black swallowtail butterfly.
Years ago, the first time I saw a caterpillar like this, I was horrified. And there wasn't just one, but seven caterpillars devouring my only parsley plant. It's not that I needed the parsley so much. (Actually, I didn't need it at all...) But I was repulsed. I clipped off what was left of the parsley stems -- the clinging caterpillars still obliviously eating -- and squashed all seven.

Later, when I was flipping through a gardening magazine, I saw this ugly creature again in a photograph next to the beautiful black swallowtail butterfly that it becomes. Remorse overcame my revulsion. I read once that newly hired gardeners at a butterfly garden in Georgia were busily ridding the plants there of pests, when the supervisor stopped them. You guessed it. They were killing the butterfly larvae.

Like a lot of people, I've never liked crawly things. It's hard to get over a natural repulsion. But it's doable. Sort of. I'll still smash any tomato horn worm I find.

I still don't love worms and caterpillars, but I'll rescue earthworms on the driveway after a rainstorm. And I'm looking out for the black swallowtail butterfly larva as it munches on my fennel, hoping a bird doesn't make a meal out of it. I can spare the fennel. I want to see butterflies in my yard next summer, like the one I photographed (see above) as it floated around the neighborhood this summer.

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