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spanish moth caterpillar

A New Caterpillar in the Garden? First Step, Identification!

Recently, I was thrilled to see a new caterpillar in my garden. I have many host plants for butterfly larva and was excited to find out what it was. It was a pretty caterpillar. Would it be a pretty butterfly? Had my green shrimp plants finally attracted a malachite butterfly? They were close to those plants. spanish moth caterpillar

My first look at a couple of guides and internet search for caterpillar with brown feet, black and white brought only monarchs. I went back and looked at it again. There were a lot of them, I needed to find out what they were. I changed things up a little – black and white caterpillar with brown feet was my next search. It brought up the Spanish Moth Caterpillar. The picture was an exact match to what was in my garden. Then I did another search on the UF/IFAS Electronic Documents website (EDIS) and read this article. It indicated that Spanish Moth Caterpillars could cause significant damage to amaryllis.
And they were. They were chewing through buds and destroying the foliage. The caterpillars were mostly at the other end of the bed from my current blooms, so I hadn’t noticed them earlier. I would like to have left them for the birds, but it seemed they were already out of control. So, I collected them. There was a mess of them, all sizes (and a lot of frass.) As I opened buds (that already had a hole in them) I would find 3 or 4 caterpillars in there, nestled together.

They are also known as ‘convict caterpillars’ and I did convict them of destroying of my amaryllis. But what would the punishment be? It may not have been the best solution, but I dumped them in my compost bin. I was hoping that whatever critters crawl around in there at night might think they were a tasty snack. The bin is quite a distance from my amaryllis but if any of them make it to the adult moth stage, unfortunately they will have no trouble flying back to my flowers to once again lay eggs.spanish moth caterpillar Amaryllis damage Grinathjpg

Of course, this is not the end of the story, I am checking my amaryllis a couple of times a day and continue to find wayward caterpillars. Doing a better job of examining my plants on a regularly basis would have prevented some of the destruction. Hopefully, I will take the time to do this and enjoy it more, without dirty knees! While I thoroughly enjoy working in the garden, I spend almost no time just exploring and appreciating the results of my labor.

I know that this is the exception. Most bugs are harmless, many beneficial. Caterpillars may eat away at most of the leaves of a plant but if the host plant and caterpillar have evolved together, they won’t be eating all the host plants to death! Maybe they wouldn’t have killed my amaryllis this year but they but they seemed intent on mowing them down. They will not only eat the leaves and flower buds bud also the bulbs. In this case, the moths are originally from Surinam and perhaps evolved eating other species of lilies or had a more voracious predator than exists for them in Florida. Amaryllis seemed to have originated elsewhere in South America.Amaryllis

The Spanish moth is pretty but this was too big a price to pay! I will keep putting in more larval host plants and hope that I continue to expand the species of butterflies that come to my yard, And, I will keep a better eye out for those that might not be wanted!

Whatever YOUR type of gardening may be, the resources of the University of Florida/IFAS research and knowledge can help you with any gardening questions you may have. While our public events have been cancelled temporarily, we are here to help! Contact us by phone:
863-519-1041, or email: polkmg@ifas.ufl.edu. We will get back to you so you can worry less and enjoy your garden more. Click her for updates on our office protocol and events:

This blog post was written by Master Gardener Volunteer Sue Grinath under supervision of the Master Gardener Volunteer Coordinator and Residential Horticulture Agent Anne Yasalonis.

For more information, contact UF/IFAS Extension Polk County at (863) 519-1041 or visit us online at http://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/polk.  The Plant Clinic is open Monday-Friday, 9:00 am-4:00 pm to answer your gardening and landscaping questions. Visit us in person, give us a call, or email us at polkmg@ifas.ufl.edu.

If you are not in Polk County, Contact your local UF/IFAS Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Plant Clinic.

The Florida Master Gardener Volunteer Program is a volunteer-driven program that benefits UF/IFAS Extension and the citizens of Florida.  The program  extends the vision of the University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, all the while protecting and sustaining natural resources and environmental systems, enhancing the development of human resources, and improving the quality of human life through the development of knowledge in agricultural, human and natural resources and making that knowledge accessible.

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