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What Do Caterpillars Eat?

What Do Caterpillars Eat?


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Lots of people mistake caterpillars for worms.  They look a lot like worms, they are cold-blooded animals like worms but unlike worms, caterpillars are the larvae of moths or butterflies where worms (or larvae to be specific) will turn into beetles or will stay worms throughout their life cycle as with earthworms.

Caterpillars are a member of the Lepidoptera order.  All species of caterpillars hatch from eggs, grow and feed as worms, turn into pupae and emerge as moths or butterflies.

There are over 20,000 caterpillar species found all over the world and most caterpillars do eat the same basic foods.

What Do Caterpillars Eat?

Caterpillars are herbivores and feed on plant matter.  Some species might however prefer certain plant types over others.  A good example is a silkworm that only feeds on Mulberry leaves.  Here is a quick look at the main foods these squishy animals love to eat.

Plants

Most caterpillars eat plant matter.  They usually prefer soft green plants that have lots of moisture since they usually don’t have access to water.  Different species of caterpillars may prefer to feed on specific or different plants.  Some of the most common foods that caterpillars enjoy eating include wild grasses, herbs, fruit and vegetable vegetation, wild vegetation, and much more.  Some species might even enjoy dead leaves.

Flowers

Not all caterpillars do consume flowers from plants but there are some that love flower buds, seeds, and blooms.  A good example is the Star-worth caterpillar.  This caterpillar enjoys feeding on all sorts of flowers but favours Sea Aster flowers.  A caterpillar infestation in your garden can also keep your plants from making flower shoots since most caterpillars will munch on these tender buds before they are fully formed.

Fruits and vegetables

Caterpillars also enjoy eating fruits and vegetables.  They might feed on all sorts of fruits and veggies such as cob corn, lettuce, cabbage, apples, pears, bananas, and any other fruit or veggie you can think of.

Honeycomb

Some caterpillars like to eat sweet foods.  The Wax Moth, for example, will invade beehives to lay its eggs in the honeycombs.  When the caterpillars hatch, they will feed on honeycomb.  These caterpillars can be quite devastating to a hive and can even destroy an entire bee colony since bees do not notice the caterpillars amongst their own bee larvae.

Grass

Most caterpillar species do feed on grass.  They enjoy soft grass sprouts and enjoy a variety of grass species including some lawn types.  Caterpillars that feed on grass will also devour the stems and seeds of grass.

Bark and twigs

Not all caterpillars can consume hard foods like bark and twigs.  But some don’t require as much moisture to survive and can live on dryer foods.  The Lunar Hornet moth caterpillar is a good example.  They bore holes in the living wood and feed in the tree for about two years before they emerge as adult moths.  These caterpillars are quite devastating to trees and are very hard to see since you cannot tell that they are there until you cut down the tree.

Animal waste

Some caterpillars will feed on animal waste products.  The Skin Moth caterpillar, for example, feeds on dead birds and mice.  They also feed on the poop of certain bird species like owls.  The feeding habits of these caterpillars might seem disgusting but they are very helpful for keeping our world clean and for helping carcasses decompose faster.

Ants

Very few caterpillar species are omnivores.  The Large blue butterfly caterpillar is one species that uses a surprising strategy to survive.  This caterpillar will feed on flower buds for a while before dropping to the ground.  Once grounded, they emit a scent to attract ants.  The ants will carry these caterpillars to their nest where these caterpillars will feed on ant grubs.  They will stay underground during metamorphosis and will emerge from the ground as fully grown moths.

Hair

Not all caterpillars do eat clothes but some species enjoy the taste of hair and natural animal fibers.  The Common clothes moth caterpillar is known for its habit of feeding on wool and other clothes you might have stored away.

Diet Variation

Some caterpillar species like the Rosy Marbled moth caterpillar is an omnivorous animal.  These caterpillars will feed on dead and alive insects as well as plant matter.  Caterpillars will also become cannibalistic if they become too dehydrated.

How to Feed Caterpillars?

Most caterpillars need a lot of moist foods to stay hydrated.  To feed these animals, you need to offer them lots of food daily.  Old wilted foods need to be removed every morning.  It is also very important to ensure that the plant matter you offer hasn’t been treated with pesticides.    Pesticides can cause your caterpillars to die.

What Do Caterpillars Eat In the Wild?

In the wild, these insects usually focus on plant matter.  They feed on any plant types that are available in their natural habitat.  Foods available to them are usually suited since moths and butterflies lay their eggs in areas with lots of natural food sources.

What Do Caterpillars Eat in Captivity?

Pet caterpillars are usually fed on a variety of healthy foods such as leafy greens, fruits, and vegetables to help keep them healthy.  This does however depend on the species.  Silkworms, for example, are only fed on mulberry leaves.

What do Baby Caterpillars Eat?

Caterpillars are babies.  They hatch from eggs and will enter a pupae stage before they reach adulthood.  Any caterpillar you see from small to large is considered an infant of their species.  Smaller caterpillars simply need softer food with more moisture compared to larger caterpillars.

How Much and Often Do Caterpillars Eat?

These insects do have quite a healthy appetite.  A caterpillar can double its size in one single day by simply feeding a lot.  These insects will also feed all day long or perhaps even during the night time if they can.

Do Humans Eat Caterpillars?

Some caterpillars are edible.  In countries like Botswana, South Africa, China, and East Asia, certain caterpillars are harvested daily as a delicacy.  Not all species are however edible.

Do Caterpillars Eat Lettuce?

These worms love lettuce but lettuce isn’t the best food to offer since lettuce has very little nutritional value.  Lettuce is however a great food to offer to keep caterpillars hydrated.

Do Caterpillars Eat Aphids?

Some caterpillar species do hunt and eat insects like aphids as well as ant pupae and larvae in addition to green plant matter.

Do Caterpillars Eat Each Other?

Caterpillars do sometimes eat each other but this isn’t a very common occurrence.  In most cases, extreme conditions such as dehydration and starvation are what inspire these cannibalistic acts.