Parsley Caterpillar: Garden Friend or Foe?

Updated: Jul. 29, 2021

Did you see a worm crawling on your parsley plants? Don't panic. Learn about the parsley caterpillar and the butterflies you might see soon!

parsley caterpillar, Black Swallowtail Caterpillarungernz/Getty Images
Black swallowtail caterpillars eating parsley

I love to have fresh herbs to pick when cooking. Nothing better than their just-picked flavor and heady fragrance. Since my yard is mostly shade, I’ve planted my herbs in containers so I can put them in the most sunny spots. This year I noticed that my parsley was covered, I mean covered, with scads of caterpillars. There were more parsley caterpillars than leaves on my small plant!

Not knowing at the time whether the caterpillars were friend or foe to my cooking herbs, my husband picked them off and put them on another plant. I think he placed them on a large shrub nearby. Here’s what the parsley caterpillar looked like:

swallowtail caterpillar "parsley" caterpillar | paula bonelli | birdsandbloomsblog.comPaula Bonelli

I thought for sure this was a yellow tiger swallowtail caterpillar because a few weeks later, we had quite a few of these pretty pollinators flitting around our yard. Upon further research, I found it is indeed a swallowtail caterpillar, but it’s a black swallowtail caterpillar. I haven’t seen any black swallowtail butterflies in my yard. Weird.

Check out 6 common swallowtail butterflies you should know.

eastern black swallowtailCourtesy Nancy Melton
Black swallowtail butterfly

This caterpillar is also called a parsley caterpillar or parsley worm because it can eat toxins from its host plants in the carrot family, including carrots, parsnips, parsley, dill, and even Queen Anne’s lace. According to Texas A&M University, it’s a bad-tasting caterpillar so birds and predators won’t touch it. No wonder there were so many on my parsley.

From now on I will plant some extra parsley for the caterpillars, so we both have enough to enjoy! Learn how to plant a caterpillar cafe in your butterfly garden.

What cool caterpillars (or butterflies) are hanging out in your yard? Take our quiz to see how many caterpillars you can identify.