Caterpillars are the larvae of butterfly and moth, caterpillars can damage leaves, stems, fruit and flowers causing serious economic loss.

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  • Eggs are small and round, oval or cylindrical – some species are ribbed
  • Caterpillars start feeding immediately on hatching – quickly growing up to 15 times original size
  • Fully grown caterpillars are green to brown with 3 pairs of true legs under thorax (plus 4 pairs of abdominal false legs)
  • Moth/butterfly wings show clear markings – useful to determine species. 
  • Species include silver gamma moth Autographa gamma; carnation leafroller Cacoecimorpha pronubana, European pepper moth Duponchelia fovealis and tomato moth Lacanobia oleracea

Life cycle

  • Completes life cycle in 1 month to year – depends on species
  • Adult moths / butterflies have 4 development stages - egg, larva, pupa & adult
  • Eggs are laid in clusters – up to 100, usually on leaves
  • Caterpillars moult several times as they grow
  • Fully grown caterpillars pupate inside a cocoon
  • Undergo complete transformation (metamorphosis) – emerging as winged adults

Damage caused

Caterpillar species that attack your crop

  • The silver gamma moth Autographa gamma;
  • The carnation leafroller Cacoecimorpha pronubana;
  • The tomato looper Chrysodeixis chalcites;
  • The cabbage leafroller Clepsis spectrana;
  • The European pepper moth Duponchelia fovealis;
  • The tomato fruit moth Helicoverpa armigera;
  • The tomato moth Lacanobia oleracea;
  • The cabbage moth Mamestra brassicae;
  • The beet armyworm Spodoptera exigua;
  • The cotton leafworm Spodoptera littoralis

Damage caused

  • Caterpillars feed on leaves
  • Young caterpillars start eating the leaf underside – leaving upper epidermis intact
  • Larger caterpillars can also damage flowers, fruit and young shoots
  • Certain species bore into fruit and stems – making them hard to detect / control
  • Some moths fold leaves around – telltale sign of their presence 
  • Caterpillars foul plants with granular excrement / frass 


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