How to Manage Pests

Pests in Gardens and Landscapes

Foliage-feeding caterpillars

Most flowers are susceptible to damage from caterpillars of one or more species. Caterpillars are the immature or larval stage of moths and butterflies. Only the larval stage chews plants. Although adults consume only liquids, such as nectar and water, they are important because they choose which plants to lay eggs on. Larvae have three pairs of legs on the thorax (the area immediately behind the head) and leglike appendages on some, but not all, segments of the abdomen.

Identification of species | Life cycle


Caterpillars chew irregular holes in foliage or blossoms or entirely consume seedlings, young shoots, buds, leaves, or flowers. Some caterpillars fold or roll leaves together with silk to form shelters. Caterpillar feeding can kill or retard the growth of young plants.


Handpick. Eliminate nearby weeds, which may host caterpillars. Provide proper cultural care to allow older plants to outgrow and replace any damaged tissue after infestations are controlled. Applications of Bacillus thuringiensis or spinosad can be effective against larvae, especially when caterpillars are small. Natural control by viral diseases, general predators, and parasites (Hyposoter, Copidosoma, Trichogramma) is often effective.

For more information on leafrollers, see the Leafrollers on Ornamental and Fruit Trees Pest Note. See also Leaf-feeding Caterpillars Quick Tip.

Tobacco budworm larva
Tobacco budworm larva

Green fruitworm larva
Green fruitworm larva boring into rose bud

Beet armyworm feeding damage
Beet armyworm feeding damage on kalanchoe

Statewide IPM Program, Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of California
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