What are caterpillars?

Caterpillars are the larvae of butterflies and moths. Butterflies and moths form the order Lepidoptera, a very large group with more than 150,000 species, that are easily distinguishable from other insects. Many of the butterfly species that are active during the day can be strikingly colourful while moth flying at night are usually inconspicuously brownish are greyish. Adult butterflies do not damage crops. Most of them feed on nectar. In contrast, the caterpillars have biting and chewing mouthparts and can devour large amounts of plant tissue. Many species cause damage to crops.

The most harmful caterpillars that occur in greenhouses belong to the Noctuidae (the noctuid or owl moths), which is the largest of all lepidopteran families. Most adults of this family are nocturnal. The caterpillars mostly pupate in the ground. Another family containing several species that damage greenhouse crops is the leafroller family, the Tortricidae. The name ‘leafroller’ refers to the fact that the caterpillars often live in rolled-up leaves. Although some species are restricted to a single crop, most are polyphagous.

Life cycle of caterpillars

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Caterpillar damage

Caterpillars can cause serious economic damage. Most species feed on leaves and young shoots, and their enormous feeding capacity can rapidly decimate a plant. Very small caterpillars are not able to chew and therefore graze the underside of leaves. This causes a window effect where the epidermis of the upper leaf surface remains undamaged. Young caterpillars are often found in groups, spreading out over the plant as they grow larger. As their size increases, so too does the damage they inflict: leaves are often skeletonized, with only the mid-rib left intact. Flowers, fruits and growing tips can also be eaten by larger caterpillars. Some species mine in leaves or bore holes into fruit or stems, making them difficult to detect and control. In addition to consumption of the plant, caterpillars also spoil the plant with the large quantities of frass they leave behind.

Caterpillar species

False codling moth

False codling mothThaumatotibia leucotreta

Macadamia nut borer

Macadamia nut borerThaumatotibia batrachopa

Litchi moth

Litchi mothCryptophlebia peltastica

Garden swift moth

Garden swift mothPharmacis lupulina

Small fruit tortrixCydia lobarzewskii

European vine moth

European vine mothLobesia botrana

Vine mothEupoecilia ambiguella

European corn borer

European corn borerOstrinia nubilalis

Chestnut fruit moth

Chestnut fruit mothCydia splendana

Codling moth

Codling mothCydia pomonella

Pea moth

Pea mothCydia nigricana

Oriental fruit mothGrapholita molesta

Red plum maggot

Red plum maggotCydia funebrana

Mediterranean corn stalkborerSesamia nonagrioides

Apple clearwing moth

Apple clearwing mothSynanthedon myopaeformis

Oak processionary moth

Oak processionary mothThaumetopoea processionea

Goat moth

Goat mothCossus cossus

Pine processionary moth

Pine processionary mothThaumetopoea pityocampa

Leopard moth

Leopard mothZeuzera pyrina


CutwormsAgrotis spp.

Summer fruit tortrix

Summer fruit tortrixAdoxophyes orana

Leek moth

Leek mothAcrolepiopsis assectella

Helicoverpa zea

Potato tuber moth

Potato tuber mothPhthorimaea operculella

Fall Armyworm

Fall ArmywormSpodoptera frugiperda

Tobacco budworm

Tobacco budwormHeliothis virescens

Tomato pinworm

Tomato pinwormKeiferia lycopersicella

Cabbage looper

Cabbage looperTrichoplusia ni

Tomato leafminer

Tomato leafminerTuta absoluta

Cotton leafworm

Cotton leafwormSpodoptera littoralis

Beet armyworm

Beet armywormSpodoptera exigua

Diamond back moth

Diamond back mothPlutella xylostella

South American palm borer

South American palm borerPaysandisia archon

Banana moth

Banana mothOpogona sacchari

Cabbage moth

Cabbage mothMamestra brassicae

Tomato moth

Tomato mothLacanobia oleracea

Cotton bollworm

Cotton bollwormHelicoverpa armigera

Southern European marshland pyralid

Southern European marshland pyralidDuponchelia fovealis

Box tree moth

Box tree mothCydalima perspectalis

Cabbage leafroller

Cabbage leafrollerClepsis spectrana

Golden twin-spot moth

Golden twin-spot mothChrysodeixis chalcites

Carnation tortrix

Carnation tortrixCacoecimorpha pronubana

Silver-Y moth

Silver-Y mothAutographa gamma

Velvetbean caterpillarAnticarsia gemmatalis

Soybean looper

Soybean looperChrysodeixis includens

Sugarcane stalk borer

Sugarcane stalk borerDiatraea saccharalis

Tomato fruit borerNeoleucinodes elegantalis

Spodoptera cosmioides

Spodoptera cosmioidesSpodoptera cosmioides

Southern armyworm

Southern armywormSpodoptera eridania

How to get rid of caterpillars

Koppert offers different solutions for biological control of caterpillars. Find more products for your crop in the solution finder.

Caterpillar control videos

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