Caterpillars are fascinating creatures to many because of the way they convert into butterflies through metamorphosis. However, caterpillars are also harmful to gardens because of the damage they cause to the plants. So, let’s consider the basics: What do caterpillars eat?
Caterpillars follow a varied diet, eating a range of things you can find in the garden including leafy greens alongside different fruits and vegetables.
You will find that caterpillars feed on almost all kinds of plants. These little worm-like creatures like to munch on different leaves and even some plant parts like flowers or seeds.
There are two groupings of caterpillars: Generalist eaters and specialists. The generalist eaters will eat almost all kinds of plants, while the specialists will feed on a specific plant type, such as the cabbage white caterpillars.
Do Caterpillars Eat Fruit and Vegetables?
Other than leafy greens, which we usually spot caterpillars eating, these insects also like to eat different kinds of fruits and vegetables. Caterpillars feed on lettuce, corn on the cob, cabbage, lettuce, pears, apples, stone fruits and more… The list really could go on and on.
What Do Caterpillars Like to Eat Most?
As aforementioned, caterpillars are not choosy insects and follow a varied diet. Apart from the usual leafy greens, there are other things that caterpillars enjoy eating:
Caterpillars love feeding on green leaves, but they also like plant matter. Usually, these insects love plants with moisture as most of them do not have access to water.
Some species prefer to consume one plant more than others. For example, the aptly named box tree caterpillars will stick to eating box trees in the Buxus family.
In general, caterpillars like to eat herbs, wild grass, vegetable and fruit vegetation and wild vegetation. In addition, some species of caterpillars also like to eat dead leaves and decomposing matter.
Flower consumption amongst caterpillars is quite niche. Not all caterpillars do so. However, the caterpillars which do consume flowers love feeding on seeds, blooms and flower buds.
An extensive caterpillar infestation can prevent plants from growing flowers as caterpillars will eat the buds before they are formed fully.
There are some caterpillars that prefer to eat sweet foods. For example, some species, like the wax moth, like to eat honeycomb, and they will invade beehives to lay their eggs.
As the eggs hatch, the caterpillars which come out will consume the honeycomb. You may be surprised to know that these caterpillars can be quite damaging to beehives. The bees do not notice the caterpillar because they confuse it for their own larvae.
Tree Bark and Twigs
Caterpillars do not like to eat hard foods, as they are dry and require moisture. However, some species of caterpillars like to make holes in wood and eat inside the tree until they come out as moths.
These caterpillars can cause a lot of harm to the trees, which you may not spot immediately. Extensive damage can lead to you cutting down the tree.
Other than leaves and plants, caterpillars will also feed on waste products belonging to animals. For instance, caterpillars will feed on dead animals like mice and birds.
Some species of caterpillars will also eat the poop of birds like owls.
There are some caterpillar species that feed on both plants and animals. These species are few but will eat almost anything… Including other insects!
Some caterpillars feed on ants which they attract by emitting scents which they acquire from the flowers they feed on. The ants tend to carry the caterpillars to their nests, where the caterpillars eat ant grubs. The caterpillars will stay there feeding on ants until they emerge as butterflies.
One of the insects you will find in your garden includes caterpillars. These are the larvae of butterflies that emerge from the eggs with just one purpose, which is to eat and gain nutrition.
Caterpillars are not finicky eaters and will consume just about anything. Mostly, caterpillars are found eating green leaves and foliage. However, these worm-like creatures have a diet that comprises more than that.
Caterpillars consume fruits, vegetables, grass, dead plant matter and more. There are some species of caterpillars that are omnivores and will feed on ants.
When you have an extensive caterpillar infestation, there is always the question of whether the plants will be able to recover. If you suspect that you might have a caterpillar infestation, you must deal with it as quickly as possible.
If your plants are being repeatedly destroyed by caterpillars, they will not get a chance to heal and hence, will die. However, if you catch the infestation early, you can save your plants from getting completely destroyed. Smaller caterpillars will cause less damage to your plants as opposed to mature ones. Bigger caterpillars will cover a larger surface area as they feed on plants.
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Ryan is a keen gardener from the UK who’s spent years dealing with countless, common pests over the years so knows the ins and outs of how to deal with pests in the garden