What Plants Do Caterpillars Eat?

Science, Tech, Math Animals & Nature What Do Caterpillars Eat? Host Plants for Moth and Butterfly Caterpillars Share Flipboard Email Print Getty Images/Matt Meadows Animals & Nature Insects Butterflies & Moths Basics Behavior & Communication Ants. Bees, & Wasps Beetles Spiders Ticks & Mites True Bugs, Aphids, Cicadas, and Hoppers Amphibians Birds Habitat Profiles Mammals Reptiles Marine Life Forestry Dinosaurs Evolution View More By Debbie Hadley Entomology Expert B.A., Political Science, Rutgers University Debbie Hadley is a science educator with 25 years of experience who has written on science topics for over a decade. our editorial process Debbie Hadley Updated January 18, 2020 Caterpillars, the larvae of butterflies and moths, feed almost exclusively on plants. You will find most caterpillars munching happily on leaves, though some will feed on other plant parts, like seeds or flowers. Generalist Feeders vs. Specialist Feeders Herbivorous caterpillars fall into one of two categories: generalist feeders, or specialist feeders. Generalist caterpillars feed on a variety of plants. Mourning cloak caterpillars, for example, will feed on willow, elm, aspen, paper birch, cottonwood, and hackberry. Black swallowtail caterpillars will feed on any member of the parsley family: parsley, fennel, carrot, dill, or even Queen Anne’s lace. Specialist caterpillars restrict their feeding to smaller, related groups of plants. The monarch caterpillar feeds only on the foliage of milkweed plants. A small number of caterpillars are carnivorous, usually feeding on small, soft-bodied insects like aphids. One rather unusual moth caterpillar (Ceratophaga vicinella) found in the southeastern U.S., feeds exclusively on the shells of dead gopher tortoises. Tortoise shells are made of keratin, which is tough for most scavengers to digest. Determining What to Feed Your Caterpillar Whether a caterpillar specializes on a specific type of plant or feeds on a variety of host plants, you will need to identify its food preferences if you’re going to raise it in captivity. You can’t put a caterpillar in a container with grass and expect it to adapt to eating something different than its usual diet. So how do you know what to feed it, if you don’t know what kind of caterpillar it is? Look around the area where you found it. Was it on a plant? Collect some foliage from that plant and try feeding it that. Otherwise, gather samples of whatever plants were nearby, and watch to see if it chooses a certain one. Also, keep in mind that we often find caterpillars when they’re wandering away from their host plants, looking for a place to pupate. So if the caterpillar you collected was crossing a sidewalk or trudging across your lawn when you picked it up, it might not be interested in food at all. Oak Leaves: The (Nearly) Universal Caterpillar Food If your caterpillar won’t eat anything you’ve offered it, try collecting some oak leaves. An incredible number of moth and butterfly specieswell over 500will feed on oak leaves, so the odds are in your favor if you try Quercus leaves. Other foods that are preferred by many caterpillars are cherry, willow, or apple leaves. When all else fails, try leaves from one of the powerhouse perennials for caterpillars. Host Plants for Caterpillars to Eat in Your Garden If you want to plant a true butterfly garden, you need more than nectar plants. Caterpillars need food, too! Include caterpillar host plants, and you’ll attract a lot more butterflies as they visit your plants to lay eggs. When you plan your butterfly garden, include some caterpillar host plants from this list. A well-designed butterfly garden supports not only this year’s butterflies but generations of butterflies to come! Common Garden Butterflies and Their Host Plants Butterfly Caterpillar Host Plants American painted lady pearly everlasting American snout hackberry black swallowtail dill, fennel, carrot, parsley cabbage whites mustards checkered whites mustards common buckeye snapdragons, monkey flowers eastern comma elm, willow, hackberry emperors hackberry giant swallowtail lime, lemon, hoptree, prickly ash grass skippers little bluestem, panic grass greater fritillaries violets gulf fritillary passion vines heliconians passion vines monarch butterfly milkweeds mourning cloak willow, birch painted lady thistles palamedes swallowtail red bay pearl crescent asters pipevine swallowtail pipevines question mark elm, willow, hackberry red admiral nettles red spotted purple cherry, poplar, birch silver-spotted skipper black locust, indigo spicebush swallowtail spicebush, sassafras sulphurs clovers, alfalfa tiger swallowtail black cherry, tulip tree, sweet bay, aspen, ash viceroy willow zebra swallowtail pawpaws Featured Video View Article Sources James, Beverly. Wildlife Connections: Moths and Butterflies. University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment | Urban Forest Initiative. Cite this Article Format mla apa chicago Your Citation Hadley, Debbie. “What Do Caterpillars Eat?” ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, thoughtco.com/whatdocaterpillarseat-1968177. Hadley, Debbie. (2021, February 16). What Do Caterpillars Eat? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/whatdocaterpillarseat-1968177 Hadley, Debbie. “What Do Caterpillars Eat?” ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/whatdocaterpillarseat-1968177 (accessed December 6, 2021). copy citation How to Feed and Care for a Caterpillar How to Keep Fall Caterpillars Alive Until Spring Tussock Moth Caterpillars What Do Monarch Butterflies Eat? Are Those Pests Sawfly Larva or Caterpillar? 12 Plants That Butterflies Love Butterflies and Moths, Order Lepidoptera Perennials for Caterpillars in the Butterfly Garden 10 Ways to Identify an Insect Elephant Hawk Moth Facts 10 Fascinating Facts About Moths Plan Your Trip to a Butterfly House 10 Threats to Monarch Migration Top 10 Beneficial Garden Bugs 22 Common Insects Pests That Are Harmful to Trees A Guide to the 29 Insect Orders Home Learn Something New Every Day Email Address Sign up There was an error. Please try again. You’re in! Thanks for signing up. There was an error. Please try again. Thank you for signing up. Follow Us Facebook Facebook Flipboard Flipboard Science, Tech, Math Humanities Languages Resources About Us Advertise Privacy Policy Cookie Policy Careers Editorial Guidelines Contact Terms of Use California Privacy Notice ThoughtCo is part of the Dotdash publishing family. 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What kinds of plants do caterpillars eat?

Nearly all species of caterpillars feed on oak leaves. If you are unable to find a particular type of plant, then try finding some oak leaves. Over 500 species of moths and butterflies feed on oak leaves. Several species of caterpillar also feed on cherry, apple leaves, and willow.

What are caterpillars Favourite leaves?

Wild grasses. The gatekeeper, meadow brown and a variety of different skipper butterflies all feast on grasses. In fact, a variety of plants you might consider weeds are actually caterpillar favourites, such as dandelions and groundsel. This latter plant is irresistible to cinnabar moth caterpillars.

What leaves to feed caterpillar?

Oak Leaves : The (Nearly) Universal Caterpillar Food. An incredible number of moth and butterfly species—well over 500—will feed on oak leaves,1 so the odds are in your favor if you try Quercus leaves. Other foods that are preferred by many caterpillars are cherry, willow, or apple leaves.

What veggies do caterpillars eat?

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.

On Saturday he ate through one piece of chocolate cake, one ice-cream cone, one pickle, one slice of Swiss cheese, one slice of salami, one lollipop, one piece of cherry pie, one sausage, one cupcake and one slice of watermelon. The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Eric Carle.

The Star-wort caterpillar particularly enjoys munching on the flowers and developing seeds of the Sea Aster plant on saltmarshes. The caterpillars of the Lunar Hornet Moth bore into Sallow trees where they feed on the living wood inside for about two years.

The caterpillars rarely cause much damage to the trees but when they are cut down you can easily see the old burrows in the wood, the width of your little finger. Once theyve had their fill of the flowers they drop to the ground, releasing a scent which encourages unwitting ants to carry the caterpillars back to their nest. Dingy, Buff, Common , Muslin, Rosy and Scarce Footman moths all feed on lichens growing on tree trunks, fence posts, old walls, various mosses and decaying vegetable matter.

Ive been telling you that we can help Monarch butterflies in our Ecosystem Gardens by planting more milkweed because that is the only plant that Monarch will lay their eggs on.

To anyone who claims that Monarchs are eating your parsley, fennel, dill, or carrots, you are mistaken. They look similar to Monarch caterpillars (both are striped), but swallowtails have a slight green tint to them.

I have milkweed and the swallowtail host plants in my garden, and I have raised Monarchs from egg to adult. I have never had a Monarch eating parsley but swallowtails love it, along with dill, rue, fennel, and Golden Alexander. I be had chrysalis hanging on the rims of pots, the wooden shingles on my house, my railings, the door knocker etc … they sometimes walk a ways to choose their perfect spot.

it is invasive, but if you have a spot where you can let it grow it blooms with tiny white flowers that smell strongly of vanilla. There are 3 bulbs in the pot I have sweet memories of swarms of monarchs, and black and yellow swallowtail butterflies. I have a lot of milkweed in the woods behind my house, the monarchs visit the plants but have not laid any eggs on it.

She is having a near impossible time attaching to hang and dry her wings but is leaking an orange-rust looking fluid. Swan plant commonly planted in our NZ gardens to encourage Monarch butterflies in my opinion does not supply enough cardenolides to deter or poison its enemies, wasps remove the cats when small and birds are eating the large ones, I’ve got many Swan bushes but no cats grow into larger size because of the wasp, only in Autumn do I notice them appear despite seeing Monarchs fluttering around. I think it would help this discussion topic if you posted a picture of the Black Swallowtail butterfly caterpillar with the article.

I wish we could post pictures here because…I have several cats, in at least 4 different stages, eating almost the entire supply of parsley in my herb garden. When you run out of milkweed and YOU WILL, the 5th Instar will eat Butternut Squash, even some of the younger ones do and I’ve video taped them doing so. I make a butternut popsicle and put that on a metal skewer or just cut some into strips, julienne style.

I take the largest cats and put them in a very large plastic jar(Snyders Pretzels) and a paper towel and then the butternut squash strips. As they finish and start to crawl up and out of the jar, I then put them on the inside of our screen porch and they climb up and form their chrysalis! I came to your site because after years of collecting and sharing monarch eggs and caterpillars, and enjoying my butterfly garden, complete with milkweed, I found a full grown monarch caterpillar on my potted verbena flowers.

And in response to the previous comments, I have found many caterpillars on my parsley as well, but they are Black Swallowtail butterflies.

Caterpillars are the larvae of moths and butterflies. They hatch from the eggs laid by butterflies and moths either on the ground or on plants. After hatching, caterpillars spend the first two weeks munching everything on their path. Butterflies are particular about where they lay their eggs because caterpillars begin eating where they hatch. They focus their attention on feeding to accelerate their growth within a short period. Caterpillars hatch with strong mandibles and begin chewing on leaves and flowering plants. Some subspecies of caterpillars are specialist feeders and only consume specific types of leaves their entire lives. Caterpillars do not drink water but instead eat more leaves when thirsty.

Specialist Feeders and Generalist Feeders

Caterpillars are grouped into general or specialist feeders. Specialist caterpillars feed on limited and occasionally related groups of plants. Monarch caterpillars, for example, feed on the foliage of the milkweed plants only. Generalist caterpillars such as the mourning cloak caterpillar feed on elm, birch, hackberry, and cottonwood in addition to several other plants. Some species of caterpillars are carnivorous and feed on small insects such as aphids. The moth caterpillar of southeastern United States feeds on the shells of dead gopher tortoises.

Feeding Caterpillars in Captivity

The challenging part of rearing caterpillars is determining what to feed them. The first step is to determine whether the caterpillars are general or specialized feeders. The second step is to identify food preference and alternatives. The best option when deciding what to feed a caterpillar is to look around the area it inhabited. If it was attached to a plant, then the likelihood of feeding on the plant is high. Alternatively, you can gather several leaves, place them next to the caterpillar, and observe its preferred options.

Oak Leaves

Nearly all species of caterpillars feed on oak leaves. If you are unable to find a particular type of plant, then try finding some oak leaves. Over 500 species of moths and butterflies feed on oak leaves. Several species of caterpillar also feed on cherry, apple leaves, and willow.