With very few exceptions (like the caterpillar that eventually morphs into a Monarch butterfly), caterpillars are rarely welcome guests. One of their main life purposes involves eating the fruits (and vegetables) of your garden labors. And then they eat, and eat, and eat some more. Caterpillars are actually the larvae of moths or butterflies, and only passing through one phase of their life cycle. But they are every gardener's nightmare. Many caterpillars are also venomous, so if you are trying to remove one from one of your plants, do so with gloves or a stick.
Here are eight garden caterpillars in particular that you should watch out carefully for:
Armyworms: Most Armyworm species are actually moth larvae. There are several types of Armyworms (e.g., Northern Armyworm, Oriental Armyworm, Rice ear-cutting caterpillar, Fall Armyworm, Beet Armyworm, etc.), but they all have one thing in common. They can march on your garden and lay waste to your garden's plants and vegetables. There is a long list of plants they attack, including asparagus, beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, peas, cucumber, tomatoes, and yes... watermelon.
Armyworms come in a wide range of colors, but they typically feature some sort of striping pattern. Unless treated, after Armyworms have eaten their fill in your garden, they will pupate, and later emerge as moths.
Cabbage Loopers: Cabbage looper larvae are smooth, greenish caterpillars with thin white lines on their backs and sides. They are known to crawl in a "looping" motion, and they are active for almost the entire growing season, leaving destruction in their wake. These caterpillars have a liking for cabbage, broccoli, and brussel sprouts, as well as for spinach, parsley, lettuce, and potatoes.
Cabbage loopers have the ability to completely defoliate plants. The caterpillars feed on the underside of growing leaves, while outer leaves become pocked with small, random holes. Heads of cabbage and cauliflower can become growth-stunted. Cabbage looper caterpillars become grayish-brown moths as adults.
Cabbage Worms: Cabbage worms (the caterpillars of the Cabbage white butterflies), are a particularly dangerous pest in your garden. Also known as "Imported Cabbage worms," these pests primarily attack cabbage, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, and other leafy vegetables.
The holes in the leaves that Cabbage worms inflict aren't nearly as much a concern as the damage they can cause when seedlings are establishing or the heads are forming. This is when vegetable growth and yield can be significantly stunted.
Codling Moths: Just when you thought that only your vegetables were in trouble, along comes the Codling moth. The larvae of these moths are commonly known as the cream-colored caterpillars that infest apples and pears. The biggest damage they cause is in the early summer, by the time the larvae hit their second phase of development.
Control of this pest can be difficult, as they do the most of their damage ensconced in solid pieces of fruit. Non-chemical controls are available, however.
Corn Earworms: Corn earworms are the larvae of moths, and are arguably the biggest threat to sweet corn production, as they feed directly on the corn itself and are difficult to control. Once Corn earworms have made their way into the ears of corn, controlling them is practically impossible.
These larvae come in a wide variety of colors (green, yellow, red, brownish-black), but they feature brown heads, no markings, and very tiny spiny protrusions on their bodies. The caterpillars are territorial and cannibalistic, so you will hardly ever find more than one earworm in an ear of corn.
Pickleworms: Pickleworms might sound like a fun type of creature, but they are no laughing matter. They are the larvae/caterpillars of Pickleworm moths, and are aggressive feeders of cucumbers, winter and summer squash, and cantaloupe.
Pickleworm infestations are hard to detect in early stages, but the damage they inflict on your garden can be grave, especially when their populations grow. The tiny holes they chew in your blossoms can prevent further fertilization, so if they have enough time, they can render your garden quite fruitless. The damage they cause by feeding can also help introduce bacteria into what would otherwise be your healthy garden.
Tomato Hornworms: Tomato hornworm caterpillars (later to become Tomato hornworm moths) are among the largest species of caterpillars, and can measure up to 4-5 inches in length. Smaller caterpillars are usually white to yellow in color, without markings, but when they develop into their larger versions, they feature distinct "V" shaped yellowish/white markings on their typically green bodies. These caterpillars also have a black "horn" protruding from the backs of their bodies.
8. Cecropia: Imagine a spiky, colorful caterpillar. This is the Cecropia caterpillar. Cecropias are the larvae of Cecropia moths, primarily neon green in color, and about as long and thick as a human finger. They also feature soft, harmless spikes adorned with bright blue, yellow, and red orbs.
These caterpillars don't pose a threat to vegetables, but keep an eye out for them on your apple and cherry trees, as well as on your maple and birch leaves.
How to Get Rid of Caterpillars
Looking for a reliable caterpillar control product that also makes quick work of mites and all kinds of fungi?
Maggie's Farm 3-in-1 Garden Spray kills caterpillars on contact with residual repellency, and effectively kills and repels the most common garden pests including scale crawlers, mites, aphids, ants, leaf-eating beetles, boxelder bugs, crickets, lace bugs, leafhoppers, mealy bugs, stick bugs, thrips, whiteflies, and other garden pests. It is also effective at preventing and controlling plant fungal diseases including powdery mildew, black spot, leaf spot, rust and blight. It is the perfect garden fungicide.
Our 3-in-1 Garden Spray is truly a triple threat, formulated to help protect your plants and keep them healthy.
Protect your precious tomatoes, peppers, cauliflower, cabbage, and other garden favorites. Use our Maggie's Farm 3-in-1 Garden Spray for home gardening for roses, flowers, houseplants, shrubs, vegetables, fruits, herbs and other edible/consumable and ornamental plants.
Always follow label directions before application.
We specialize in killing bugs, but we're all about keeping things "greener" and can help you keep your plants healthy and strong! For scientifically-tested, effective solutions for your home and garden that are friendly to the environment, try Maggie’s Farm pest control products. Our promise is that our plant and mineral-based products are developed by scientists and seasoned pest and fungus control professionals to be the most effective.