Common Garden Pests – How to identify and protect your garden from Caterpillars

In our previous blogs, we threw some light on aphid and mealybug which cause damage by sucking the juice from the plant tissues. Today we will learn about one of the usual insect favorites – Caterpillars! They are fascinating intriguing and full of mystery.

Insects are the largest group of animals which constitute about 75% of the living organisms. Though they belong to the same class Insecta; each insect is different from one another and can cause crop loss to varying extents from 0 -100%.

All pests do not cause crop loss; they have specific host plant range they prefer to feed and breed on. Many insects are beneficial (Ex. honey bees help in pollination of crops) in our environment and helps in bringing a balance to the ecosystem. So, as we try to control insects, it is ideal to know the insects, type of mouthparts they possess, kind of damage they can cause, and methods of remedies to be applied because all the insects are not pests.

Let us familiarize ourselves with Caterpillars. What are caterpillars, kind of damage they cause and how to tackle them in our gardens?

Caterpillars belong to the order Lepidoptera, which are usually larvae of the moths and butterflies. They have cylindrical body shape with varied colors, usually green that makes it difficult to spot them against the green background of the leaf. There are about 11,000 different species in this order.

Common Caterpillar Species
The common ones found in household gardens can be classified based on their feeding style and the damage they incur. These are:

  1. Foliage Feeders – makes irregular holes while feeding on the foliage.
  2. Cutworms – cuts the plant at the collar region.
  3. Leaf Rollers – rolls or ties the leaves around them while feeding.
  4. Borers – makes entry into the plants by boring the tissues.
  5. Loopers (or inchworm) – doubles us or loops as they inch forward.

Crops affected by Caterpillars
The caterpillar causes damage by eating the leaves. They may not pose much danger to established trees and shrubs apart than losing some portion of few leaves. But, in leafy vegetables, losing foliage will lead to a decrease in yield due to loss of crop as well as due to reduced photosynthesis rate due to a lesser number of leaves. Caterpillars are the primary pests in vegetable families like crucifers (cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower), solanaceous (tomato, potato, chili, sweet peppers, brinjal etc.). Caterpillars can be easily controlled when detected early (lesser population).

Damage Signs to watch out for
Damage signs will vary as each species of caterpillars cause a different kind of damage. Some caterpillar species feed on entire leaves, whereas other species may only nibble small holes in them.

Skeletonizers – feed on the leaf surface, scraping away the top layer of the leaf surface.


Leafroller caterpillars – will roll the leaves with silk and hide within and goes on feeding.


Borers -will bore into the tree trunks eating the inner contents.

Preventive Measures

  • Installing light traps – Light traps can be set in the plantation areas so that adult butterflies get attracted to the light source and fall into the trap.
  • Creating a fabric shield – Covering the crops with fabric barriers, building a greenhouse around the crops (forms a boundary for butterflies and moths’ entry and lay eggs)

Remedial Measures

  • These are soft-bodied insects, often fall prey to other creatures like birds and small mammals, which will keep their population in control.
  • In case of overpopulation, an easy way is to pick them off from the plants and put them in a bucket containing soapy water with a film of kerosene to kill them.
  • Neem oil spray will help in keeping the pest population under control.


Sushma completed her B. Sc. from College of Horticulture, Hiriyur and M. Sc. from College of Horticulture, Bengaluru. She is an avid gardener with expertise across soil based and soilless gardening techniques using substrates.

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