Large Caterpillars - Knowledgebase Question

Canyon Country, CA
Question by jschilf
August 22, 1999
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 from NGA
August 22, 1999


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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