I N her early life Daucus was a seed. At that time she had a stiff coat with rows of barbed prickles on it. She wore this strange spiny baby coat for more than half a year.
At first she lived with seven or eight hundred sister seeds in a hollow cup-shaped cluster that looked somewhat like a bird's nest. This seed-cluster grew at the tip of a wild carrot stem. There were many of these plants, each with several such stems, in a weedy field not far from Holiday Farm.
Blossoms and "Birds' Nests"
During the frosty fall weather the stems and the "birds' nests" at their tips became dry and brown. Later, when the winter storms came, the snow often piled in little fluffy white mounds on top of the nests. Sometimes the snow would be blown off by the wind while it was light. At other times it would melt a bit during the sunny part of the day and then freeze at night in icy crusts. Then when morning came the seed-clusters looked as if they were in sparkling glass cases.
Little Daucus never knew whether the winter days were sunny or stormy. She and the hundreds of sister seeds slept in the brown nest on the tip of the slender stem. They stayed there until nearly March. Then one day a blustering wind snapped the brittle stem and broke off the nest of seeds.
Away the round cluster rolled over the crusty snow like a feather ball before the wind! And all about were other similar clusters scurrying in the same direction.
Dick and Anne were coming home from school that afternoon while the field looked as if the winds there were playing a game with the little round balls.
"See," said Anne, "the birds' nests have broken off the wild carrot plants and they are rolling along like tumble-weeds."
"They are blowing toward Holiday Meadow. Let's race with them!" said Dick.
Just as Dick spoke, the seed-cluster with Daucus in it blew by and the cousins began to run. Daucus reached Holiday Meadow first. But the slope near the river was sheltered a bit from the wind; and the children overtook Daucus there.
"I'll beat you to the bottom of the slope," Anne said to the seed-ball with a laugh. But just then she slipped on an icy spot and sat down on top of Daucus's ball.
When Anne stood up she saw that the frail cluster was crushed and mixed with broken snow crust. So the cousins chose another ball with which to race.
Daucus was not harmed by the accident. Her hard coat protected her. But a lump of icy snow had rolled on top of her and held her still. The wind could not blow her any farther. She had reached the end of her journey.
In due time spring days came. Melted snow soaked the ground of Holiday Meadow and fresh rain fell. Daucus's coat was wet. Her little seed-body was moistened by water and warmed by sunshine; and it began to grow. She pushed sprouting roots down into the ground. She reached tiny leaves up into the air. She no longer needed her baby clothes.
The meadow slope was well drained and the ground did not stay too wet for the best health of wild carrot plants. So, before her first summer was over, Daucus had a tough pale yellow tap-root shaped somewhat like a scrawny little carrot; and she had a crown of beautiful feathery leaves. She did not have any tall stems and flowers; for, unlike many kinds of plants, wild carrots wait until their second summer before they blossom.
Although Daucus had no flowers that summer, she did have a butterfly for a guest. Of course the butterfly did not visit the green leaves for nectar. She came on a different sort of errand. One day at noon when the sun was bright she stopped for about a quarter of a minute on one of Daucus's soft feathery leaves. During that brief call she glued one egg to the under side of the leaf.
She was a rather large butterfly. When she spread her wings they measured more than three inches from the tip of the right fore wing to the tip of the left one. She was a beautiful creature whose black velvety wings were bordered by two rows of yellow spots. On the hind wings there were spots of pale blue on the black space between the yellow rows. Each hind wing was tipped with a slender black tail.
After Black Swallowtail, for that was her name, left Daucus she flew to a caraway leaf and glued one egg to the under side of that.
The carrot and the caraway both belong to the Parsley Family; and it is a wonderful fact that Black Swallowtail butterflies never lay an egg on any plant that does not belong to that family. They may leave their eggs, one in a place, on parsnip or dill or celery or parsley or other plants of this family; but they never waste their eggs by putting them on other kinds of leaves.
Of course you would like to know how a Black Swallowtail chooses plants of one family from all the other plants of fields and gardens. So should I. But no one can tell us exactly for no one has the senses of a butterfly. People think that when she is ready to lay her eggs, carrots and related plants have for her such an attractive scent that she cannot help stopping at such leaves.
All the plants belonging to the Parsley Family have certain likenesses in the shapes of their flowers. Perhaps to a Black Swallowtail they have the same sort of odor. Even to a human nose certain of these plants have somewhat similar smells.
If you wish to find out what plants belong to the Parsley Family you might follow a Black Swallowtail. That would be one way to study botany.
It is fortunate for the caterpillar youngsters of Black Swallowtail butterflies that their mothers never mislay their eggs, for leaves of plants belonging to the Parsley Family are the only sorts of food that agree with them.
When a tiny caterpillar crept out of the eggshell that had been left on Daucus's leaf he made himself quite at home; and as soon as he felt hungry, he helped himself to carrot-leaf salad.
He did not waste any of his food but ate every bit that he cut off with his little tooth-like jaws. So he grew rather fast.
At first he was black with some white marks and rows of little fleshy spines; but by the time he was in his last caterpillar stage he was much more handsome. His skin was then smooth and gayly colored. He was green with cross-bands of black and on each black band was a row of orange spots. He had two soft orange-colored horns but these were usually drawn in under the skin just behind his head and did not show.
A handsome caterpillar who likes celery and other plants of the Parsley Family.
One day a young bird, not yet much used to hunting for itself, saw this bright-colored caterpillar and poked him with its beak. When the bird touched him he thrust out his horns quickly and the air all about him was filled with a strange strong odor. The young bird did not like that smell and went away in a hurry. Left to himself, the caterpillar drew in his horns and crept along the leaf.