What’s Eating My Parsley?

Today I went out to water all my plants and was startled to see that ALL of the parsley was gone. Not dead–completely missing.

The other day I saw some small (maybe 1 cm long) caterpillars basking in the sun on some of the parsley leaves. I didn’t particularly care to kill them, it’s nature after all. But I didn’t expect to go out today and find that those tiny caterpillars were really very hungry caterpillars. Those caterpillars are now nearly 2″ long, fat, and have very fresh breath.

A quick online search for “white, black, green and yellow caterpillars” and “caterpillars eating parsley” led me to find out that we are the current caretakers of three Black Swallowtail caterpillars.

Goodbye, parsley! Hello, butterflies!

My little girl was particularly excited when I showed her what the butterflies will look like in a few weeks after the caterpillars make their chrysalides.

I have to admit that I’m a little excited, too. (And I might just go to the store and buy some more parsley for them.)

(pictures from Wikipedia Commons)

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  1. Lovely pictures…rabbits eat my parsley down to the ground every year, so don’t be too quick to blame the caterpillar!

  2. That reminds me of the year I planted a beautiful herb garden.

    Three times.

    Each day I’d plant it and go out the next morning and it would be gone. Not dug up or anything, just completely gone. I knew it couldn’t be something small–I had big healthy plantings of parsley sage rosemary and thyme (just to name a few).

    So I planted it all over again.

    And the next morning I went out there and it had all disappeared again.

    It drove me so crazy I honestly wanted to set up a hidden camera to see what was the culprit.

    Turns out it was the neighbor’s bunny, who had free reign of the neighborhood.

    The third time was a charm and it all stayed put. But I learned never to trust a bunny around fresh herbs.

  3. We had a caterpillar munching on the parsley as well – sadly, something killed it before it transformed into a butterfly.

  4. Great pictures! We get these guys on our dill plants too — so we let our dill go to seed and grow all over so there’s plenty to “share” with the caterpillars.

  5. WE have hungry rabbits here that have eaten all my snap dragons right down to the bare stems. Obviously they don’t like the stems, which are quite unattractive sitting there naked in my garden. I love watching the bunnies though so am putting up with it for now! Nature is lovely though, what with fat contened bunnies and cute caterpillars with fresh breath!

  6. I can confirm that swallowtails do indeed love curly-leaf parsley. Since it’s easy to grow from seeds, I think it is very nice to plant lots of it to attract them to the garden. Rabbits seem to love it, too. An interesting experiment would be to put some in a pot, up high, where rabbits cannot get to it, and see if the swallowtails swallow it all up by themselves. I plan to do this next year because I’d like to know!

  7. to ks and others…I can confirm that The Swallowtail Butterfly can indeed swallow up the parsley…even way up high. I have window boxes off a second level deck and have parsley in one of them. Tonight when my sister was over visiting, we walked out to look at the herbs and the patio tomatoes and she screamed when she saw three bright green and black caterpillars almost eating all the curley parsley. I feel bad because we flicked them off onto the grass, but I didn’t want my parsley eaten up!!

  8. They also LOVE dill, and Italian Parsley!! We are raising 6 of them in our house right now!! I had no idea they would turn out to be so PRETTY!! Now I’m super excited!! Can’t wait to blog about them.

  9. But they’re EATING MY PARSLEY!! LOL! *I* wanted to eat my parsley!!

    I found your blog today when I googled “monarch caterpillar is eating my parsley” (because, while I didn’t think they were monarchs, they look a bit like em).

    Because I found the little munchers actually munching away… no question as to the culprit.

    Is there a humane way to make them stop? Or should I just plant more parsley?? ;)

  10. Hi, Kat! I’m not sure about keeping the pests away. :) I just planted more parsley in my garden a few weeks ago. I’m crossing my fingers that I don’t see caterpillars soon. I’ve heard dish soap and water work for other pests….sorry, I don’t know more.

  11. I saw two of these beauties on my parsley the other day. Luckily, the plants had already gone to seed. They are quite stunning in appearance, I was in awe.

  12. They are enjoying my flat leaf parsley and my carrot greens too. Beautiful creatures, but I would like to enjoy my dwarf round carrots. Yes-the size of ping pong balls. You can grow them in window boxes.

  13. I stumbled onto your blog via google search (green with black striped catepillar ha!) Yep. I’ve got a sneaking suspiscion that I’m about to lose my curly leaf parsley. Sad day! On the upside, my daughter will love those butterflies too!

  14. I googled green and yellow caterpillars photos to see if we could find what kind of caterpillars were all over my parsley. It had already gone to seed so I wasn’t concerned. I found your blog confirming that they were indeed butterfly caterpillars! We have about 30 of the little guys all over our parsley plant. Once I told the kids they would become butterflies they’ve decided to stop being concerned about them eating the plant! Silly kids, parsley is for swallowtail butterfly caterpillars!

  15. Ok, too funny! I was trying to figure out what was eating our parsley and took pics of the catepillars we have and viola!! I’m so excited to see what they them turn into beautiful butterflies!

    BTW we have our parsley planted in a pot sitting on my potting bench and no issues with bunnies!

  16. I noticed these caterpillars eating my parsley (down to the stalks) in hanging planters (out of reach from rabbits!). Not knowing what they were, I just cut the parsley with caterpillars on them and tossed them out about 30 minutes ago. Then I googled them and saw this website and the pretty butterflies they become. I have since collected all caterpillars from the trash and placed them back on the remaining two stalks of parsley that I did not cut. Hopefully, it will be enough to feed them. Thanks!

  17. I saw a beautiful swallowtail fluttering around and landing on my oregano and these same caterpillars (nine of them)crawling all over and chewing up my dill, leaving nothing but the stalks! Any suggestions?

  18. So I was gone for two days and when I got home I noticed there is a new occupant in my house. A caterpillar has come to live on the parsley plant that sits near the kitchen sink. I searched the internet to find the identity of my caterpillar and lo-and-behold there was your article. “What’s eating my parsley?”. There was my caterpillar! and my answer to what it will change into. Thanks so much for your posting and pictures.

  19. ^ Same here! These guys just destroyed my Italian leaf parsley, and I thought for sure they’d turn out to be something nefarious and poisonous. Lo and behold…they’re gonna be some beautiful butterflies! They can have the dang parsley. I don’t even like it that much, I just like having it around for when a recipe calls for it. Thanks for posting!

  20. I just found one of these guys on my parsley this morning… we moved him inside so my 2 and 4 yo can watch him change. I’m going to go out and look for more b/c i’m a kindergarten teacher and the kids would love to watch it there also…. HOpefully I dont kill him.

  21. Love this post – I also have these little chubby guys all over my parsley (apparently they don’t like basil) so I googles to see what they were – when I found your post — voila! Now that I know, I just hope to see them in their beautiful butterfly state as well.

    ~ Lee

  22. Thanks for posting this information. I came across your post when I googled “green yellow black caterpillar”. Indeed I, too, have a Black Swallowtail caterpillar on my parsley plant. Oh, well. He can have the parsley! I’d much rather have more butterflies that are so pretty.

  23. OOOOppsss… I found some of them eating my rue last year and killed them all. Today I found three of them: two are in the chrysalis phase and I did not disturb them, but one was a big fat caterpillar and it … took a trip off the balcony… Now I’m feeling terrible :( At least, if the two remaining become butterflies I’ll feel a little better. I killed one of the few things that make this awful city beautiful…

  24. “Well, I must endure the presence of two or three caterpillars if I wish to become acquainted with the butterflies.” Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry

  25. We got a pot of herbs as a gift two weeks ago. We’ve had a lot of rain so we didn’t have to water them until today. We found our parsley was being eaten by these same caterpillars. We live on the top floor of our building with a roof deck on the 17th floor. The person who gave them to us said she has none on her parsley so we don’t know how they came to be here.

  26. for years always thought they were monarchs. Now I know they are the black swallowtail… very beautiful caterpillars. They arrive in late summer every year and devour our parsley plants but oh well, it’s cool to see them grow from the size of a pencil eraser to the size of your pinky finger. Did you know if you very lightly and gently stroke their heads, bright orange antennae pop up !!! I live in Winnipeg, Canada. Where do the butterflies go ?

  27. I am so relieved to know that there are other crazy people obsessed with nature in all it’s glory. I too googled to find out more about my lovely friends that have decided to feast on my parsley. I photograph them every day to track their metamorphoses into regal Swallowtail Butterflies. It is a privilege to watch the process and happy that they chose my parsley. I can’t wait for this all to unfold.

    Thanks so much for the post!

    P.S. My husband is a chef and now he has to get his parsley for the grocers!

  28. I just found two of them on my parsley stalks, not many leaves left, but I certainly want to encourage (feed) the butterflies!

  29. planted parsley plant last week completely eaten to ground level stalks as well looked to see what it could be

  30. Thanks for the information on the caterpillar! Yes my parsley was disappearing too, then I found the culprit one morning lounging on my parsley which I have planted in high standing patio garden box along with basil and oregano. Fortunately I did get to harvest some of my parsley and other herbs before he chowed down and froze them in ice cube trays with olive oil. Next year I will plant extra for when new friends come to dine.

  31. I’m on the second floor. HOW did they get up here? How long until they spin the cocoon? And then how long until there’s a butterfly?

    1. Hi Barbara!
      The only things I can think of is that either an adult Swallowtail laid eggs on there after flying up and landing on the parsley, or if it’s a seedling, maybe the eggs were there from the nursery?

      I’m sorry that I don’t know more about the Swallowtail lifecycle. I do remember the caterpillars disappearing quite quickly after they ate all of the parsley. I suspect birds got to them or they crawled somewhere to form their chrysalids. I suspect the timing is similar to other butterflies though. My guess is a few weeks between forming the chrysalis to turning into an adult.

  32. This happens to us every year. Last year, the hungry caterpillars went through a pot of parsley, and after it grew back we found a second batch of caterpillars eating that crop as well! I barely managed to get enough for one bowl of potato salad.

  33. Thank you, so glad to read that they are going to be butterflies. I don’t mind if my parsley gets eaten.

  34. Sadly I killed a number of these before finding 17 on 4 parsley plants this summer. my local nature museum told me they would be black swallowtails. they also first stripped the asparagus until the parsley grew large enough to eat. next year I will plant parsley in a few spots along with dill for them to eat and hope they will leave me some. they are pretty special and if I have to, I can buy parsley at the grocery store.

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