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Integrated Pest Management · Agriculture and Natural Resources

University of California


Caterpillars are the larvae of butterflies and moths. They damage plants by chewing on leaves, flowers, shoots, fruits, or sometimes boring into wood. Caterpillars have three pairs of legs directly behind the head, and leg-like appendages on some but not all segments of the abdomen, distinguishing them from the larvae of beetles, sawflies and flies.

Link to fruit, pod, nut, and tuber caterpillars

Fruit, nut, pod, and tuber caterpillars

Caterpillars that attack fruits, nuts, and tubers can burrow into plant parts and hide, which means damage often goes undetected until harvest.

Link to indoor caterpillar and moth pests

Indoor caterpillars and moths

Small moths flying indoors can be pantry pests if you see them near stored food. Their larvae may also produce webbing. Tiny moths near closets may be clothes moths.

Link to lawn caterpillars

Lawn caterpillars

Caterpillars under turf may cause yellowing or browning, although these symptoms most often come from other causes.

Link to leaf-eating caterpillars on flowers and vegetables

Leaf-feeding caterpillars on flowers and vegetables

Caterpillars chew irregular holes in leaves or flowers and can entirely consume seedlings, young shoots, buds, leaves, or flowers.

Link to leaf-eating caterpillars on woody plants

Leaf-feeding caterpillars on woody plants

Some leaf-feeders on woody plants fold or roll leaves together to form shelters. Others create "nests" in foliage, hollow out trails within the leaf, or feed out in the open.

Link to crown, stem, and tree-boring caterpillars

Tree-boring caterpillars

These caterpillars may cause holes in trunks, weakened branches or crowns, and distorted shoot growth.