Parsley Muncher


black swallowtail caterpillar on parsley stem

The “parsley worm” or black swallowtail butterfly caterpillar earns its name by feeding on parsley and related plants.


Yes! The parsley patch is back in full effect! And I have another black (swallowtail) cat(erpillar). Last year there was one specimen that I watched grow into a hearty, grubby parsley worm only to lose track of it just as Fall was breaking hard into winter. It must have been earlier that same Fall I noticed that inside an umbrella that had been left out on the back deck, a moth of some sort (suspicion is Ctenucha virginica but never confirmed) had pupated inside of it. So I left it loose and semi-unfurled. Come springtime what do I see but a butterfly chrysalis moved into the same umbrella neighborhood! Looked very much like a swallowtail (and I did take photos; one day they will make it out of my iPhoto attic). Somehow, I missed the eclosion and never saw the butterfly. Doh. But it appears it eclosed fine, Elvis left the building, blah, blah, blah.

Hopefully this year I can get some good shots of this little guy (he seems so little!) as he makes the journey from parsley squatter to black beauty. I started off trying a different lens. My future brother-in-law has indefinitely loaned me his Micro Nikkor 60mm, which I have had a while but never seem to use, because 1) I am a slave to habit, 2) anxiety about “missing a shot” (a really good one of a rare bug!), and 3) I can’t get enough magnification on this sucker for my usual tastes. It’s a nice lens, but it goes one to one, and my reversed 18-55mm cheap Nikon kit lens goes almost 4:1 (if my rough calculations are right). It’s pretty convenient to turn the zoom ring and get that extra magnification. Well, I said, I can’t let this sit forever (especially in light of today’s blown opportunity, when I missed a unique visitor to the patch, a Horse Fly of Genus Atylous, that I’ve only seen once before in four years or so). So, longstoryalittlelonger, I put my cheap (and I mean cheap) extension tubes on with the Micro Nikkor. Didn’t need the tubes for this particular critter probably, but the smaller flies and bees and wasps, definitely. The verdict? I like the results for the most part, and I have a pretty good range, maxed out around 3.3:1 magnification…but…it’s very difficult to see through the viewfinder and I’m not for certain on this, but the working distance seems smaller (which never helps). But the most disturbing part, which happens inevitably when I put these tubes on is I get this ghosting, if that’s the right term; it’s a cloudy white “X” at the center of the frame, sometimes showing whole, sometimes in parts, and sometimes not at all, e.g. above (though there was a softish white spot just under the caterpillar’s true legs area that made me antsy until I post-processed and it seemed to be just the background).

In short, I’m blaming the tubes; they make me nuts, but I’m not in the position or mood to shell out for a better set (especially if this problem happens even with better equipment). The one thing that really stood out to me on the Micro Nikkor was that the backgrounds were less likely to get blacked out, something that sometimes happens on the reverse lens at less than 1:1 magnification. My sort of desperate genius was to look into the magnificent MP-E 65mm and convert it to Nikon. A quick eBay search ($800 and up!) and Google search (no converting and/or Nikon brand equivalents here!) quashed that revolution pretty fast. Oh well.

If anyone made it through this screed and knows about this ghost ‘X’ phenomenon, I’d love to hear your take! I will try to get a photo posted demonstrating said problem, too.


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