What plants do caterpillars eat? Caterpillars are the larvae of butterflies and moths, meaning they grow into adult molt and butterfly caterpillars.
You might have seen these young creatures crawling on oak leaves and nectar plants countless times but never knew the name.
If you want to grow these beautiful creatures, but don’t know what they ingest, below is a list of plant food sources you can feed caterpillars.
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List of Plants Caterpillars Eat
Dill is a herbaceous, annual flowery plant from the celery family. Also known as Anethum graveolens, this plant originated from the Mediterranean but is now widespread in some parts of Europe and North America. As mentioned, dills are the favorite plants for black swallowtails or Anise swallowtails. They are attracted to this plant because of the flowers and tasty leaves.
Its beautiful foliage and yellow flowers are the major sources of attraction for caterpillars like the black swallowtail. The female butterflies lay eggs on the flowers of this host plant, which in turn feeds the caterpillars when they hatch.
Dill grows about three feet tall, with fern-like leaves appearing once the seed has sprouted. The amber flowers blossom in the late summer but don’t it does not produce nectar abundantly. This is a bit surprising for a herbaceous plant.
– Growth Requirements
This plant prefers full sun and fertile soil with little moisture content. In the absence of fertile soil, the plant can survive in poor soil because it can handle dryness quite well. Dill hates hot climates, especially late summer. They grow best in spring or cooler climates. Early summer in hot climates could work, but the plant must be grown in partial shade.
Planting dills is done via the seed. Plant the seeds into a large deep container with fertile soil and balanced moisture content if you want to grow the plant indoors.
On the other hand, for outdoors, plant the seeds about one third to a quarter of an inch deep into the soil. Space the seeds for proper growth. Germination occurs about three weeks after planting. A temperature of about 70 degrees Fahrenheit is required for it to blossom.
Grasses are widespread and easy to search for, so feeding caterpillars won’t be an issue. You can also plant them in your garden if you want, but you must ensure you are growing the right – Variety for your caterpillars.
Some caterpillar species prefer wild grasses for their nourishment. Caterpillars eat grasses because they contain nutrients, such as fiber and amino acids, that aid their development into adult butterflies.
Caterpillars, such as army worm caterpillars, sod web worms, wooly bear caterpillars, knot grass caterpillars, and garden tiger caterpillars, eat grass. Army worm caterpillars and sod web worms are the most common grass eaters.
Army worm caterpillars are a member of the Noctuidae family. They are dangerous to forage crops, vegetables, and lawns and cause damage by eating plant tissue, and may also even kill the whole plant.
The pest comes in two varieties—rice strain and corn strain. The rice strain feeds on forage crops, while the corn strain eat fescue, wheat, fertilized bermudagrass, and pearl millet.
However, there’s also the sod webworms, and these would also feed on lawns and cause damage by eating their tissue. Just ike armyworms, they are widespread in fall, although the adult webworms appear as small brown moths that scatter the eggs on the grass as they fly around.
Once they hatch, the caterpillars eat the grass blades, creating ragged edges. Sod webworms prefer Bermuda and St. Augustine grasses.
On the other hand, the meadow brown caterpillar is another specie that feeds on host plants. It mostly feeds on meadow grasses, downy oat grass, and fescues, while the adult meadow brown caterpillars feed on nectar plants.
3. Oak Leaves
Oak leaves are the first food source to come to mind when thinking about feeding your young caterpillar. They are good food sources for feeding your moth caterpillars and butterflies.
The caterpillars crawl on their leaves and attach themselves to the vein. Caterpillars feed on oak leaves to satisfy their water needs. Compared to other insects, they don’t drink water directly; instead you would see them chew the leaves to get water, and get their sufficiency.
Oak trees are propagated via seedlings and stem cuttings. The growing conditions are similar. You can grow them indoors or outdoors in pots or seedbeds in moist soils and in full sun. Transplanting is usually done in December when the frosts must have disappeared.
Eastern tent caterpillars, tortrix moths, and fall webworm moths caterpillars eat oak leaves. Eastern tent caterpillars feed on the leaves of several trees, particularly oak trees. The moth lays eggs scattered in a circle on the leaf, which hatches in spring and begins eating the foliage of the host plant or tree. When hatched, the caterpillars gather at a branch and start constructing tents to harbor their kind.
Fall webworms also love ingesting maple leaves. Characterized by their brown body with black and orange markings, these caterpillars roll themselves up in tents. They eat the tissues of leaves and needles while leaving webs on them.
4. Sea Asters
Sea Asters can be used to feed caterpillars, such as the Star-worth caterpillars, camouflaged loopers, and striped garden caterpillars. Over 600 species of this plant exist, but the common ones are the New England aster and the New York aster.
These butterfly plants blossom late in the summer, growing six inches tall and attracting various Lepidopteran larvae to the flowers. The flowers come in colors, such as white, purple, red, pink, and blue.
– Caterpillars that Eat Sea Asters
The Star-worth caterpillar is a common example of a butterfly that eats sea asters. Others that feed on asters include the camouflaged loopers and striped garden caterpillars.
– Growth Requirements
These perennial plants grow in USDA zones four and upwards and require full to partial sun to bloom. You can grow asters in containers with well-drained loamy soils.
They are not soil-tolerant, so avoid planting in wet clay soil or sandy soil. Asters are propagated via seedlings and are best planted in the fall.
The best time to transplant your young asters is in late spring to avoid frost. When planting asters, add compost and space the seeds twoo feet apart. Adding mulch will help cool the soil and prevent the growth of weeds.
5. Alder Buckthorn
One of the favorite foods of caterpillars is the Alder buckthorn. Also known as Frangula Alnus, alder buckthorn is a tall deciduous plant native to Europe and North America.
This shrub has glossy green leaves that become yellow in the autumn. It has small black berries that are ingested by fruit-eating animals.
Alder buckthorn is the only food source for Brimstone caterpillars. These caterpillars are common in Britain and live quite long. Like most butterflies, Brimstone lay eggs in the spring and hatch in the summer. They hibernate in the winter, which means don’t expect them to fly around.
These bugs actually love feeding on these native plants because of the angular flowers they bore and the berries, which are rich in nectar.
Parsley or Petroselinum crispum is a commonly grown biennial plant in hardy USDA zones five to nine. This plant is a common caterpillar food native to Europe and the Mediterranean but is now widespread in other regions of the globe. You can find this plant in the United States and is commonly grown to feed black swallowtail caterpillars.
Black swallowtails or anise swallowtails ingest parsley the most. They are attracted by flower heads and seeds.
Some varieties of parsley, such as the flat leaf plants, are grown annually. The good news is butterfly caterpillars aren’t picky about the – Variety, which makes it easy for gardeners.
Whether you want to grow curly or the flat – Variety, your caterpillar will be happy to ingest them. In the first year, the curled parsley will produce green foliage and the second year will see the flower heads become seeds.
– Growth Requirements
Parsley is propagated by seeds. However, the seed germinates slowly, so you should soak it in hot water overnight to expedite germination. Plant it about a quarter of an inch to an eight of an inch deep.
With this process, expect the seed to germinate within four weeks, and you would start seeing little shoots coming out. Make sure that you plant in early summer before the frosty season sets in. Parsley loves full sun but can cope with partial sun. It prefers fertile and well-drained soil.
Milkweeds are popular host plants for caterpillars. Also known as Asclepias, this herbaceous perennial plant is named for its milky substance that contains cardenolides. This substance is dangerous to humans but appeals to caterpillars like the Monarch butterflies.
Caterpillars feed on the leaves and nectar, however, you must know that not all species of milkweed are suitable for caterpillar ingestion in that particular geographical location.
For example, tropical milkweeds are commonly grown as ornamental plants outside North America. In the United States, growing this specie will affect the breeding of monarch caterpillars and their migration. So avoid planting this – Variety in your garden for your monarch caterpillars.
Monarch caterpillars enjoy feeding on milkweed plants. As a result of the latter the monarch butterfly caterpillars derive nutrients from the leaves to allow them to pupate and complete their life cycle. Planting milkweeds in your butterfly garden will benefit them.
– Growth Requirements
Milkweeds are propagated by seed. Plant the seed in early spring to avoid frost. The seed germinates and spreads rapidly if the pods aren’t removed. Milkweeds grow four feet and bear long lush leaves that reach about eight inches.
In addition, they prefer well-drained soils with a pH of 4.8-7.2. The plants tolerate all soil types and do well in dry conditions. Milkweeds prefer full sunlight and bloom around August.
Nettles are one of the best food sources for caterpillars, even though we try to avoid them because they sting. Also called Urtica dioica, nettles are herbaceous plants that grow in the wild. You can find these plants in open forests and meadows’ edges.
Tortoiseshell butterflies love ingesting nettles. They lay their eggs on the leaves and then hatch into caterpillars. This specie belongs to the Nymphalidae family. It is characterized by its medium-sized, orange, and black colors with yellow marks.
Tortoiseshell butterflies share similar migratory patterns with monarch caterpillars and undergo complete metamorphosis. It hibernates in winter and grows out of the pupa in summer.
They have toothed, love-shaped leaves with stinking hairs underneath the leaves that cling to caterpillars, making it look as if they eat caterpillars. They are dioecious, meaning they produce male or female flowers. Nettles are native to Europe, North Africa, and Asia. Some species can be found in North America.
– Growth Requirements
Nettle is straightforward to grow and is propagated via seeds or seedlings. The seed prefers rich, moist soils with a pH of 5.0 – 8.0. If the site is too dry, plants will struggle. They are perennial plants with a tendency to spread, so select a location that will accommodate the spread.
You may also confine the plant to a container. Scatter the seeds in the spring and plant to a depth of a quarter of an inch, via seedlings, you can always transplant in early spring, and space the seedlings eight inches apart for the best result.
What plants do caterpillars eat? These are plants they feed on to survive their larval stages before moving to the next phase. These cute creatures are intriguing in their life cycle and eating patterns. If you want to raise caterpillars, take note of the followings:
- They undergo complete metamorphosis, on this tree as they enjoy the livelihood.
- Not all caterpillars are destructive, and some live on plants for their survival and growth.
- They have peculiar eating patterns and rarely eat animal waste.
- Most of the caterpillars would eat leaves that are rich in moisture, as they would drink water through the leaves.
With all this information, you will find it easier to raise your pet caterpillars. Feeding them with the right food source will aid their metamorphosis.
- ARPITA KAR. (JULY 18, 2023). What Do Caterpillars Eat: Top 10 Things They Feed On. USA Tales.
Retrieved from https://usatales.com/what-do-caterpillars-eat/
- Adriana. (June 2, 2022). What Do Caterpillars Eat? 6 Food Sources For A Caterpillar-Friendly Garden. Backyard Garden Lover.
Retrieved from https://www.backyardgardenlover.com/what-do-caterpillars-eat/
- Kristi Waterworth. (05/17/21). Preventing Budworm Damage: Tips For Controlling Budworms. Gardening Know How.
Retrieved from https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/plant-problems/pests/insects/controlling-budworms.htm