Caterpillars are the larvae of butterflies and moths. They can be serious garden pests, depending on the species. They can be smooth or fuzzy, dull or bright. Caterpillars shed their skin as they grow, until they're ready to pupate (make a cocoon or chrysalis). At the end of the pupa stage, they emerge as either adult moths or butterflies.
Future butterflies, or just a big problem?
If you like butterflies, you have to put up with caterpillars. They're kind of like the adolescent stage for the beauty queens of your garden. However, caterpillars can be destructive, and not all of them grow up to be flying flowers like Monarchs and Zebra Swallowtails. Some, such as Gypsy Moth and Redhumped caterpillars, are true pests. They can strip trees and other plants of their foliage in short order. Here's how you can take care of problem caterpillars in your garden.
Do a Little Research
Find out what kind of caterpillars you have. Monarch caterpillars have distinctive stripes. Certain spiny ones turn into other beautiful butterflies. Visit your library, bookstore or search online to be sure what you have.
Try Handpicking Caterpillars First
If you only have a few caterpillars here and there, and you know what kind they are, pick them off your plants by hand and put them in a bag. If you have an infestation of pest caterpillars, take stronger action.
Apply the Right Control Product for the Caterpillars You Have
Bagworms and leafrollers, are usually too numerous to pick by hand. You can spray them and other pest caterpillars on your ornamentals with Ortho® Bug B Gon® Insect Killer for Lawns & Gardens or Ortho® MAX® Malathion Insect Spray Concentrate. Before spraying any insect control product, always read the label to be sure your pest and plant are listed.