Metamorfosis 1

Caterpillars: Friends or Pests?

As lovers of all living things we have stumbled upon what has become a bit of a philosophical question in our home.  Are the caterpillars that have taken residence on our plants pests??

I have been known to spend an hour shoo-ing a spider out the front door, so in my opinion they are by no means pests.  I was excited to see the very hungry caterpillars enjoying lunch on our beautiufl plants that were planted to, ironically, attract butterflies.  My husband, the ever pragmatic realist, suggests that they are not friends of my plants but rather pests that are destroying my garden and that perhaps my compassionate nature would end up killing my plants.  And so I stood with Sophie’s Choice: save the plants or save the caterpillars?

I could freely admit that the caterpillars were indeed eating the leaves of my plant at an impressively rapid rate.  But were they actually killing out plants?  Unfortunately for both me and the caterpillars Rosie and Chip overheard this conversation and flew immediately into rescue mode.  They carefully moved as many caterpillars as they could, one at a time, from the plant to another plant about 10 yards from our garden.  This proved to be a fun exercise for the kids and kept them busy with their rescue for quite a while.  I thought that perhaps our problem was solved.

The next morning they were back and they had their extended relatives. This was a battle that I was not going to fight so it was time for investigation.  Facts are our friends and this was no exception!  I learned that there are ways to tell if my caterpillars are doing damage or just having lunch to fuel their amazing journey ahead. 

Caterpillars--(2)As it turns out, you don’t have to wait until your plants are completely defoliated to determine the presence of caterpillars at work. Look for:

  1. Eggs: The best way to distinguish caterpillar eggs from other insect eggs is to watch a butterfly crawling around on a host plant. As she moves across the host plant, look for the tiny specks she leaves behind. They may be laid singly or in clusters, and colors vary from white to yellow to green or brown.
  2. Leaf Holes: Chewing insect pests like beetles usually leave holes in the middle of foliage, but caterpillars start at the leaf’s edge and work inward. Look for ragged or scalloped leaf edges.
  3. Frans: This is the fancy term for “caterpillar poop.” Frass looks like pepper grains, deposited on the foliage adjacent to actively feeding caterpillars.

As you can see from this picture of our new guests and their hard work, I was in good shape!  I could see a large number of frass, and my leaves were being chewed from the outside towards the center with a scalloped shape.  All signs pointed far away from plant eating pests.  My little friends were just fueling up!  What great news!!  The caterpillars could stay!  I went ahead and extended their stay at our home.

My husband was not fully convinced, though.  Facts are only his associates, not yet his friends.  But this morning when he left for work he gave us a shout to come outside. And look what he found!! 



I’m so excited to see the magnificent artistry our caterpillars will share with us!


Article by by Beth Carrus, a.k.a. Dig-It Momma