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Importance of Identifying Caterpillars Correctly: Pest or Butterfly

Importance of Identifying Caterpillars Correctly: Pest or Butterfly
Within my multiple community gardens, I have found various caterpillars munching away on my vegetable plants and vegetables. Correctly identifying your caterpillars is important in order to determine if it is a pest or not. Butterfly caterpillars for example are desired in a garden but, they will consume plants in your garden just like any other caterpillar. Common caterpillar pests in central Florida include the tomato hornworm and cabbage looper. Tomato hornworms are found on the vegetable plants/fruit of the Solanaceae (or commonly known as Nightshade) Family. Cabbage loopers on the other hand are most commonly found on members of the Brassicaceae Family which includes cabbages, kale, and broccoli. I found black swallowtail caterpillars in my garden this past week, and they were devastating my parsley. Figure one below are the swallowtail butterfly caterpillars I found in my garden. [I placed them in a container with parsley to grow butterflies for my kids community garden classes.]

My initial reaction was to remove all the caterpillars from the parsley and dispose of them. For this reason, always be sure to correctly identify your pest before taking action to prevent killing desired or beneficial insects. To correctly identify a caterpillar or insect in your garden, utilize an identification key (such as: or contact your location extension office for help. For more information on gardening solutions, visit

E. Santiago

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