Saturday, September 8, 2012

Caterpillars, Butterflies and Bees

A week or so ago, I saw a black swallowtail butterfly visiting my parsley. I hoped it was a female laying eggs. Ever since, I have been watching for caterpillars. And here they are!

Keep in mind these caterpillars are on parsley leaves.

At first I spotted three of the tiny caterpillars, but the next day I spied a fourth. These larvae are the size of a clipping from a baby's fingernail. Husband Harvey didn't think these were the same kind of caterpillar because the markings and colors are different from the gorgeous caterpillars daughter Rebecca found a few weeks ago on the same parsley.

Today, the beefiest of the foursome shed it dark skin and it now looks like a micro mini me of the beauties I watched before, except for the coloration.

Tiny caterpillar in brand new skin.

Caterpillar Rebecca found 3 weeks ago. Check out the foliage for scale.

The day after I discovered these tiny caterpillars, I saw a black swallowtail on our deck not two feet from the planter with the parsley.  One part of its wing was broken and it couldn't fly.  Butterflies only live for a couple of weeks and exist to mate and lay eggs, so I put this injured one on the parsley, hoping it might be a female and even if it couldn't fly, it could complete its destiny and lay eggs.  It stayed on the parsley for two days and nights and then disappeared. I thought I was raising culinary herbs (parsley, basil, oregano, thyme), but actually I am providing nectar and pollen for my bees and a nursery for swallowtails.  I am perfectly fine with that.

The front segment of the left wing is the problem.

Note the tear, bottom right.


I treated the bees for varroa mites by disassembling the stacked hive boxes and sifting confectioners sugar over the top bars of each box of frames.  The powdered sugar makes the bees slippery and the mites fall off.  All that sugar also encourages the bees to groom, which also makes the mites fall off.  This treatment needs to be done three times at weekly intervals.  Sugar dusting is Integrated Pest Management (IPM) at its best--safe for the bees, safe for the environment, solves the varroa problem without chemicals that can linger in the honey or the comb.

It is disconcerting to see thousands of sugarcoated, dusty bees hanging out on the front porches of the hives. The girls in the swarm hive, Hive 1, were the most agitated about the intrusion and they gave me a clear message that they were annoyed. There was much zooming and dive bombing and many of the workers landed on the legs of my bee suit. I was grateful for my protective clothing.

The veil is  the most important item of protective gear. Bees love small spaces and the veil keeps them out of ears, eyes and collars. It also keeps them out of the beekeeper's hair.  Hearing and feeling a bee caught in the hair and the subsequent dreadful wait for a sting to the scalp is best avoided.  I also wear soft goatskin gloves with long canvas sleeves. The downside to wearing these gloves is I can't feel the soft bzzz of a bee that gets in the way and from time to time, a bee is accidentally crushed because I didn't see her and couldn't feel her. The upside is when I get stung on the hand, the stinger does not embed in my skin. An embedded stinger continues to pump venom into the skin long after the eviscerated bee is gone. Since I get big local reactions to stings, I am willing to accept the collateral damage to the bee to avoid days of itchy and painful swelling on my hand. Sorry girls.  In fact, every sting I have received this season has been to the hand.  So the sting I incurred on the pad of my left ring fingertip from one of the workers from Hive 1 added to my sting count but caused me little pain and misery. I wish I could say the same for the poor bee.

2012   6
2011   13

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