Caterpillars are quite damaging, especially to leafy vegetables.

They’ll consume the leaves within just a few days and destroy plants if you’re not careful.

Let’s look at what these pests are and how to protect your vegetable plants from them.

What are caterpillars?

Caterpillars belong to the order Lepidoptera and go through distinct life cycle stages, including egg, larva (caterpillar), pupa, and adult (butterfly or moth). They’ve a segmented body with three pairs of true legs and several pairs of prolegs.

Caterpillars play a crucial ecological role as herbivores, feeding on plants and contributing to nutrient cycling in ecosystems.

What damage do caterpillars cause on plants?

Caterpillars feed voraciously on plant foliage, leaving behind chewed leaves, defoliation, and sometimes even complete destruction of the plant.

You’ll find holes, and cuts on the leaves of vegetable plants affected by caterpillar infestation.

How to identify caterpillars on plants

Caterpillars, belonging to the order Lepidoptera, are the larval stage of butterflies and moths. They possess distinct anatomical features, including a segmented body with three pairs of true legs and several pairs of prolegs.

Caterpillars undergo a complete metamorphosis, transitioning through egg, larval, pupal, and adult stages.

It’s easy to identify caterpillars on your vegetable plants because they are big enough to be visible. They move around on the leaves, nibbling on them. They camouflage with green or brown color to blend in with the foliage.

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How to get rid of caterpillars

Handpick: The best option to get rid of caterpillars from plants is to handpick and drop them in a bucket of soapy water.

Neem oil: is effective in eliminating caterpillars as it affects their feeding and growth. For optimal results, we recommend to use the product as a spray and reapply it every 7-14 days.

Diatomaceous earth: Sprinkle this in the soil around the plants and also on the foliage itself. Reapply after rainfall or every few days to maintain optimal effectiveness against caterpillars.

Bacillus thuringiensis (BT): produces toxins that affect the digestive system of caterpillars, causing them to stop feeding and eventually die. To use BT for caterpillar control, mix it with water according to instructions on the packaging and spray it directly onto plants infested with caterpillars.

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How to prevent caterpillars on plants

You could use a row cover to protect leafy vegetable plants from butterflies and insects that lay eggs and develop into caterpillars.

But some will eventually find their way to the plants and the best thing to do is take care of them as soon as possible. Monitor your plants every day for signs of caterpillars and get rid of them with the above methods.

Host vegetable plants for caterpillars

Caterpillars feed on a wide variety of vegetable plants, including cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, collards, lettuce, and spinach.

Other vegetables that caterpillars can infest include beans, tomatoes, peppers, and squash.

Natural predators of caterpillars

Birds: Many bird species, such as sparrows and warblers, feed on caterpillars as a valuable source of protein.

Wasps: Certain species of wasps, like parasitic wasps, lay their eggs inside caterpillars, leading to their eventual demise.

Ladybugs: These colorful insects are voracious predators of caterpillars and can consume many of them in a short period.

Amphibians: Frogs and toads consume caterpillars when they encounter them near water sources.


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