The Q&A Archives: Large Caterpillars

Question: I have a large potted plant on my front porch and over night it was invaded by three 6-inch long caterpillars that were about 1-inch diameter with a horn on its head. I didn't want to harm it so I threw it on my hillside where we only have weeds. We are in a new development so many of the yards are not finshed in the back. What is this insect and should I have killed it? How can I keep them from coming back? They totally ate the whole tree I had. At first I thought it might be a butterfly larva or maybe a tomato larva. Its been a long time since I have ever seen one this big. We get many of the black fuzzy caterpillars too what are they?

Answer: Horned caterpillars are generally Manduca, larvae of large night-flying moths. They prefer eating the leaves of tomato, pepper, potato and eggplant, but will consume most anything, and can strip a plant of leaves in very short order! Picking the caterpillars off your plant was a good idea. If there are many caterpillars, you can use the botanical Bt (Bacillius Thuringiensis), which acts as a stomach poison. Black fuzzy caterpillars can describe the larvae of many different moths or butterflies. I suspect you're seeing the wooly bear caterpillar (common at this time of year), also the larvae of a night-flying moth.

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