Caterpillars are the larvae (juvenile form) of butterflies and moths. They hatch from eggs which the adult butterfly or moth usually lays on a suitable plant (some species are restricted to one type of plant). The plant choice is important because that is what the caterpillar will eat. Caterpillars hatch from the egg and immediately go searching for food. They are known for having a large appetite and spending virtually all of their time eating! After this stage they become a pupa and build a cocoon around themselves. During this time the caterpillar undergoes metamorphosis and emerges as a sexually mature adult form. Let’s take a look at the common diet of the caterpillar.
What do caterpillars eat?
Most species of caterpillar are herbivores, which means that they only eat plant matter. Many species are only able to eat one species of plant. They commonly eat the leaves of plants, but are also known to consume other areas of plants including flowers or fruit. Most caterpillars eat living plants, but a small number of species feed on decaying plant matter. Some species are known for being predators. These species commonly prey on the eggs of other insects or very small insects, such as ant larvae. A few species are cannibals and eat other caterpillars that belong to different species. Other species are parasites and attach themselves to leaf hoppers or cicadas.
Did you know?
There are some Hawai’ian caterpillars that capture snails in silk traps, similar to a spider’s web!
Due to their diet, as well as the amount and speed at which they can eat, caterpillars are considered to be a major agricultural pest. Some species are known for preying on important food crops. Pesticides are commonly used against these species, but it is common for them to develop resistance to these poisons and new methods are needed to eradicate them.