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  • Lynda Bevere


Updated: Nov 6

Caterpillar - Eastern Tent Caterpillar

Caterpillars, the larva of butterflies and moths, are very important to our garden ecosystem and should not be treated as a pest. Maybe it is me remembering my parents raging war on gypsy moth nests in our yard, but I too grew up thinking that caterpillars are a pest and will destroy your shrubs and trees. Although gypsy moths are an invasive species and can be harmful to trees, we should aim to protect caterpillars and welcome them into our yards.

Why is this true? Why are caterpillars so important to the environment?

bird feeding caterillar to baby bird

Caterpillars are the mainstay of birds' diets. Ninety-six percent of North American land birds raise their young primarily on insects rather than seeds or berries. The most eaten insect is the caterpillar. Caterpillars are the perfect baby bird food since they are soft, large, easy to eat and full of protein.

And can you imagine a world without birds? If there are no caterpillars, that is what we are looking at. Birds serve so many purposes and when their existence is in jeopardy, that could mean the collapse of the whole ecosystem. Birds such as hummingbirds are pollinators and are crucial for seed dispersal. Birds keep populations of insects and small rodents in check. They are also our clean-up crew. Everyone has seen vultures disposing of dead animals on roadways.

yellow swallowtail caterpillar

Also, let us not forgot, caterpillars are simply baby butterflies and moths. Besides the undeniable beauty of these winged creatures, they also are important pollinators for our plants and crops.

monarch butterfly on zinnia

So, while some caterpillars can do damage to plants by chewing on leaves and flowers, we must remember the big picture and the effect no caterpillars will have on our environment. It is unlikely that the caterpillars will damage your plants in any significant manner so leave them be and welcome these oh-s0-cool creatures into your garden.

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