Low-maintenance pet

Not that long ago, I went out to cut some parsley for a dish I was making, and very nearly harvested myself a caterpillar.

Parsley caterpillar

I don’t understand how this works. There were, as it turned out, three of these vibrant guys hanging out in my two parsley pots, all chilling on a parsley sprig of their own, not appearing to be eating anything, just sitting there. When I first looked at the plants, I didn’t see them at all, and then I looked closer, and suddenly it was a veritable nuclear family of caterpillars.

How are they invisible at first? And why are they all fans of parsley?

The three are down to one now, and I saw a white moth fluttering around the garden that I hadn’t seen before, so I’m wondering if perhaps that’s what these guys become. If so, I’m kind of sad for them—the white moths are kind of boring and nondescript, while these caterpillars? They kind of rule. They’re not as weird as tomato hornworms, and they’re quite beautiful.

Since I’ve had miserable parsley luck this year anyway, I’m letting the parsley become the Home of the Caterpillars, at least until they’re all gone. I’m down to one, and figure soon enough, he’ll cocoon up and turn into something fluttery.

But in the meantime, it’s like having a low-maintenance pet that doesn’t require a security deposit. I’m all fired up about that.

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22 Responses to “Low-maintenance pet”


  1. 1 Lydia September 26, 2007 at 9:01 pm

    Isn’t this a monarch butterfly in the making? They love my anise hyssop, too.

  2. 2 anniebetty September 26, 2007 at 9:12 pm

    No. It can’t be. Monarchs only eat milkweed, don’t they? Monarch butterflies do look an awful lot like this one though.

    Hmmmm. I will go consult our butterfly/caterpillar guide and report back.

  3. 3 anniebetty September 26, 2007 at 9:36 pm

    OK. I’ve consulted my Peterson’s guide. This guy looks a little bit like a Monarch caterpillar, but Monarch caterpillars have black, white and yellow stripes. They do not have green stripes or those yellow spots.

    My highly educated guess (Ha!) is that this is a caterpillar of a black swallowtail butterfly. Not only does this caterpillar love to eat plants in the carrot family (which includes parsly, dill and celery, too), but it’s nickname is … ta da … parsleyworm!

    Lesson over …

  4. 4 Heather September 26, 2007 at 10:08 pm

    My gut reaction was that is is a swallowtail caterpillar of some sort and they do love parsley and dill. Are you going to bring them inside and watch them build their cocoons?

  5. 5 Jen-Ben September 27, 2007 at 7:29 am

    Check out the wikipedia entry for swallowtail–it looks like you’ve got yourself either a Black Swallowtail or an Anise Swallowtail. I love the Internet!

  6. 6 layanee September 27, 2007 at 10:16 am

    I’m going out to check my parsley right now! I want a swallowtail butterfly caterpillar!

  7. 7 Jeanne September 27, 2007 at 11:17 am

    whatever kind of catepillar it is, it sure is beautiful! And you’re a sweetie letting them have your parsley! Sorry the crop wasn’t good this year. We did very well with it, but my basil was just so-so.

  8. 8 Chigiy September 27, 2007 at 2:47 pm

    I pretty sure Anniebetty is right. It is a black swallowtail.

    You don’t have to give it shots or neuter it either–that would be messy.

  9. 9 Me September 27, 2007 at 5:12 pm

    black swallowtail – we had the caterpillars in our fennel last year…the butterfly was crazy for my dill….

  10. 10 Rose Marie September 27, 2007 at 7:24 pm

    I’d put my money on some type of swallowtail. Here in Western Oregon, it would be an Anise Swallowtail and I think the type may be regional.
    Letting a couple parsley plants flower and go to seed always seems to bring them into the garden. Very nice, also they are attracted to fennel, dill and angelica.

  11. 11 nikkipolani September 28, 2007 at 12:37 pm

    What a gorgeous shot! I’m rather squeamish about squiggly things in person, but photos are great. Have you named your pets yet?

  12. 12 cole September 28, 2007 at 2:38 pm

    I am so proud you didn’t squash it! Soooo pretty. Great shot Genie. You are such a good photographer!

    Will you name him after me???
    pwwwweeeaasssse?

  13. 13 Ottawa Gardener September 28, 2007 at 3:55 pm

    I second third fourth? it’s a swallowtail. My kids love finding them!

  14. 14 jen September 29, 2007 at 2:08 pm

    Its is indeed a black swallowtail, the largish black and yellow butterflies you see. I grow queen annes lace, a weed, just to give them a home. And they love buddlea bushes. I grow ascelpias tuberosa for monarchs and I had a family of the caterpillars on my plants a few weeks ago. And the buddleas are defintely the place to sit and watch b-flys, there are virtual flocks of them, I have 4 bushes. I live right in the middle of town but my yard is very busy!

  15. 15 Kylee September 29, 2007 at 8:10 pm

    Yep! Black swallowtail! We have them every year and they love the parsley and dill. I was hoping to see a pupa this year, but no luck. However, we also had several Monarch cats and the last one I found last week and brought it inside. The very next day it made its chrysalis and it’s hanging out in the bowl in our dining room now. Sometime next week, it should show signs of emerging. I can’t hardly wait to see that! We did this earlier this year with some Painted Ladies. Very, very cool.

    I blogged about both of them. :-)

  16. 16 inadvertentgardener October 1, 2007 at 12:45 pm

    Lydia, I’m going with the swallowtail votes, especially after seeing the wikipedia photos!

    AB, thank you for the lesson — I love that you have a guide to butterflies!

    Heather, bringing them inside felt like too complicated of a task…but now I wish I had.

    Jen-Ben, Black Swallowtail it is — thanks for the wikipedia tip!

    Layanee, did you find anything out there?

    Jeanne, I’d rather have so-so parsley than so-so basil, I think. I did get some — don’t get me wrong — but it wasn’t the abundance I’d hoped for…

    Chigiy, yes…I support spaying and neutering, but not for caterpillars. :-)

    Me, you know, I never saw them doing anything near my dill — just the parsley. Interesting.

    Rose Marie, ooh…angelica…I’m starting to make a list of things to plant next year, just to attract the caterpillars!

    Nikkipolani, I’m a little squeamish, too, but when they’re super-cute, I can deal. :-) I did not name the pets, though…didn’t want to get too attached.

    Cole, I only squash the ones that eat my tomatoes! And thank you for the sweet compliment. :-)

    Ottawa Gardener, have your kids ever tried to nurture it inside?

    Jen, ooh…I love Queen Anne’s Lace, even if it’s technically a weed. But really, if you want it there, it’s not actually a weed, right?

    Kylee, can’t wait to read about your caterpillars — that sounds fascinating!

  17. 17 anniebetty October 1, 2007 at 3:49 pm

    Weeds are all a matter of opinion. One of our most invasive weeds here is ground ivy, which the Germans brought with them 400 years back and cultivated it for medicine. Go figure.

    Genie, I not only have a butterfly guide. I also have a caterpillar guide. And don’t get me started on the wildflower, native flower, snake and toad guides. Oh, we have guides.

  18. 18 inadvertentgardener October 1, 2007 at 11:29 pm

    AB, of course you do. :-) And I am duly impressed.

  19. 19 Zoey October 5, 2007 at 9:17 am

    Hi inadvertentgardener,
    I found your page after googling the time it takes a black swallowtail crysalis to emerge.

    You see I took a couple of caterpillars off my parsely and put them in a jar. On August 24, they each formed a crysalis and I have been waiting for the butterflies to emerge.

    I was very lucky and captured it all on video.

    It was simply amazing! The highlight of my summer. I posted the video on my blog. You can see it here if you are interested:

    http://perennialpassion.blogspot.com/2007/08/all-i-can-say-is-wow.html

  20. 20 inadvertentgardener October 7, 2007 at 12:06 am

    Zoey, that is such a great video! Did you punch holes in the top of the jar, or feed the caterpillars anything? And what are you doing with the chrysalises?

  21. 21 shannon June 9, 2008 at 2:50 pm

    I found a swallowtail butterfly ? With a wing slightly ripped i havn’t touched it with my hands and i brought inside from a storm? Any idea what i can do for the little thing?

  22. 22 inadvertentgardener June 9, 2008 at 6:22 pm

    Shannon, I really don’t know enough about butterfly medicine to be able to answer this one properly. Maybe set it outside again once the storm has passed to see if it can fly away?


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