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Consumer Q's: Mystery caterpillar
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A black swallowtail caterpillar munches on fennel. - photo by ARTY SCHRONCE/special

Question: Will using cedar chips as bedding in the doghouse protect my dog from fleas?
    Answer: Volatile oils in fresh cedar chips are toxic to fleas and may repel them, but the effect lasts a very short time. If you have had flea problems in the past, do not rely on cedar shavings as your only defense. Practice good sanitation and grooming. Consult your veterinarian or visit a pet store for over-the-counter options if your dog becomes infested with fleas.

    Q: I had a delicious watermelon from Franklin County that had small black seeds. Can I save them and plant them next year?
    A: If the watermelon is a hybrid, the seeds you save and plant will not produce melons the same as the one you ate. The offspring will have one or more traits from each parent but not necessarily the ones that made it delicious. Even if it is a non-hybrid, the melons that come from the seeds you plant could be a mongrel mix if the farmer planted different varieties close together. We would not advise investing the time, effort and resources if you do not know what the end product will be. If you really want to grow watermelons, we recommend getting a variety from a reliable source so that you know what to expect. If you enjoy experimenting, you can plant whatever you want.
    If you decide to save the seeds, here is what you should do. Select fully mature seeds, rinse them and place them on paper towels to air-dry for a few days. After they are fully dry, store them in an airtight container in your refrigerator or freezer until you sow them next spring.

       
    Q: I came back from vacation to find caterpillars with black, yellowish green and white stripes and dark yellow spots eating my parsley. What are they? When I touched one it sent out orange horns that left a disagreeable vinegar-like smell.
    A: They are caterpillars of the black swallowtail butterfly. The coloration can vary with some caterpillars exhibiting more of one color than another. Younger black swallowtail caterpillars are mostly black with a white saddle.
    Along with the description you provided, the fact that these caterpillars are eating parsley is a good clue to their identity. Black swallowtails lay their eggs on parsley, dill, fennel, carrots and other members of the carrot family. The caterpillars (sometimes called "parsleyworms") hatch and eat the leaves. If the caterpillars are decimating your crop, pick them off. If you want the butterflies, let them eat. Home gardeners will sometimes plant enough for both themselves and the butterflies.
    Caterpillars of all swallowtails have a forked, horn-like organ behind the head known as an osmeterium. When threatened, a black swallowtail caterpillar will evert its osmeterium, the appearance and smell of which may repel some predators. It is harmless to humans and the smell washes off with soap and water if you get it on your hands.
    Black swallowtails are beautiful, relatively common and easy to attract by planting members of the carrot family to serve as larval host plants. Adult black swallowtails feed at a wide variety of flowers including zinnia, tithonia, sunflower, native asters, native butterflyweed and other milkweeds, purple coneflower, thistle, red clover, Joe-pye weed and phlox.


    If you have questions about services or products regulated by the Georgia Department of Agriculture, write Arty Schronce (arty.schronce@agr.georgia.gov) or visit the department's website at www.agr.georgia.gov.

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