Caterpillars - Friend or Foe?

David Trammel's picture

I never seemed to have many caterpillars in my small rental garden. With an increase in the size of what I'll have going forward into 2022 and beyond, my experience with pests will no doubt be fun.

Several of the gardening groups I'm a member of have been an eye opener, especially when Japanese beetle season hit this year. The absolute freakout of many people, and the just huge amount of suggestions on how to deal with it, tells me that handling pests may be as much an art form as a science. One you have to tailor on multiple fronts based on both the insect and your garden.

One "pest" that had a interesting reaction from people was caterpillars. Some like the tomato hookworm had a "burn them all!" reaction while others like the monarch butterfly caterpillar had the exact opposite reaction. Some people even took those up as near pets, putting them into containers and hand feeding them.

Clearly the caterpillar is an insect that the friend or foe identification depends on the person.

Here is a paper from PennState which makes the case that caterpillars can be your friend, IF properly managed.

"A Case for Caterpillars"

What is your opinion?

Sweet Tatorman's picture

The caterpillars I mostly encounter in my garden are cabbage worms, army worms, and tomato hornworms. The only exception to killing on sight would be the case of tomato hornworms with the eggs (actually cocoons by the time you see them) of the wasp that parasitizes them. They will be dead soon anyway if not already and I do not want to disturb the lifecycle of this beneficial wasp.