What Do Caterpillars Eat?

The dietary habits of the Very Hungry Caterpillar are intriguing and this makes us often wonder: what do caterpillars eat?

Butterflies and moths strategically deposit their eggs in locations that optimize the likelihood of survival for their progeny.

Typically, this entails the utilization of the leaf from their foodplant as a source of sustenance, hence offering a readily available nourishment upon their hatching.

However, it is important to acknowledge that there are instances where the rule may not apply. Thanks for reading!


What Do Caterpillars Eat?

What Do Caterpillars Eat
Picture of a Caterpillar Eating

Caterpillars mostly consume plant material, such as leaves, grasses, and flowers, which constitutes the majority of their dietary intake. In general, caterpillars exhibit herbivorous feeding behaviour.

Nevertheless, certain species exhibit omnivorous behaviour by consuming animal corpses, red ants, aphids, and various types of caterpillars.

Herbivorous caterpillars exhibit two distinct feeding strategies: generalist feeding and specialist feeding.

Generalist feeders exhibit a broad dietary preference, consuming a diverse range of plant species, whereas specialist feeders display a more selective feeding behaviour, demonstrating a preference for certain plant species.

As an illustration, it is noteworthy that monarch caterpillars predominantly consume the leaves of the milkweed plant, scientifically known as Asclepias curassavica.

According to a research article published in Entomologia Experimentalis et Applicata, it was shown that monarch caterpillars exhibit plasticity in their food preferences.

However, certain plants contain compounds that have the ability to either attract or repel these caterpillars.

The overwhelming majority of caterpillars predominantly consume plant material. The primary dietary component consists of the highly hydrated foliage of tender verdant vegetation.

This is the mechanism by which caterpillars acquire the necessary water; unlike mammals, they do not consume it through drinking.

Several types of leaves, such as oak, cherry, apple, and willow tree leaves, are widely recognized for their palatability to various species of caterpillars.

A limited proportion of caterpillar species exhibit omnivorous feeding behaviour. As an illustration, the larval stage of the skin moth has a dietary preference for consuming deceased avian specimens and the remains of rodents.

Certain caterpillars engage in cannibalism, albeit typically under conditions of extreme hunger and/or thirst.

Caterpillars engage in feeding behaviours not alone for sustenance during their larval stage, but also to trigger the process of metamorphosis leading to their eventual transformation into adult forms.

The acceleration of this process is facilitated by a nutritious diet, as indicated by a study conducted at the University of Tsukuba.

The delayed development observed in certain organisms can be attributed to inadequate nourishment, hence resulting in variations in the duration of the pre-metamorphic period.


Read also: Saddleback Caterpillar: Identification, Infestation, and Control


  • Honeycomb:

While lollipops are not a part of the dietary preferences of caterpillars, it is worth noting that certain species of caterpillars have a preference for consuming sweet substances.

The adult Wax Moth exhibits antagonistic behaviour against beekeepers by infiltrating beehives for the purpose of oviposition.

Upon hatching, the caterpillars engage in the consumption of the honeycomb, occasionally resulting in the detrimental consequences of hive destruction.

  • Bark and Twigs:

The larvae of the Lunar Hornet Moth exhibit the behaviour of tunnelling into Sallow trees, where they engage in a feeding process on the vital inner wood for a duration of approximately two years.

The impact of the caterpillars on the trees is often minimal; but, upon felling the trees, the observable remnants of their presence become evident in the form of old burrows within the wood, measuring around the width of an average human’s little finger.

The mature Lepidopteran exhibits a form of mimicry resembling that of a hornet, however, it maintains a non-aggressive nature and lacks the ability to inflict a sting.

  • Flowers:

Certain animals exhibit a dietary preference that extends beyond consuming plant leaves, as they also consume plant buds, seeds, and flowers.

The Star-wort caterpillar exhibits a notable preference for consuming the blooms and developing seeds of the Sea Aster plant, predominantly found in salt marsh habitats.

  • Grass:

The predominant and extensively distributed species of butterflies tend to select readily accessible food sources.

Wild grasses serve as a source of sustenance for caterpillars belonging to the Gatekeeper, Meadow Brown, and Skipper families.

This presents a compelling reason to allow a designated portion of one’s garden to grow in a natural and untamed manner.

  • Ants:

The lifecycle of Large Blue butterflies has an atypical dependence on a specific kind of red ant. The juvenile larvae initiate their existence by consuming the blossoms of Wild Thyme or Marjoram.

After consuming an adequate amount of petals, the caterpillars descend to the ground, emitting a fragrance that inadvertently entices ants to transport them to their nest.

The caterpillars consume ant larvae as their primary source of nutrition prior to undergoing pupation beneath the ground.

Upon completion of its metamorphosis, the butterfly gradually ascends from the ant nest, extending its wings to their full size.

  • Hair:

There exists a prevalent notion that all moths possess the dietary inclination to consume clothing materials.

Only two moth species are commonly observed in residential settings, accounting for less than 1% of the total moth species found in the United Kingdom.

These particular species possess caterpillars that consume organic animal fibres. The topic of discussion pertains to everyday attire.

Moth larvae exhibit a preference for soiled wool over neatly maintained garments, and they are also known to consume materials such as fur, hair, and feathers.

  • Moss and Lichen:

The moths known as Dingy, Buff, Common, Muslin, Rosy, and Scarce Footman exhibit a dietary preference for lichens that thrive on tree trunks, fence posts, ancient buildings, various mosses, and decomposing organic material.

The Brussels Lace caterpillar exhibits a remarkable adaptation by imitating a twig covered in lichen, effectively blending in with its surroundings.

This adaptation involves the caterpillar’s ability to adjust its shade of green to closely resemble the specific type of lichen it consumes.

The organism possesses an ideal form of camouflage, enabling it to consume its desired amount of food without being threatened by predators.


What Do Caterpillars Eat as Adults?

Caterpillars engage in folivory, consuming leaves and other plant material as their primary source of nutrition.

However, as they undergo metamorphosis and transition into their adult stage, their dietary preferences undergo a significant shift.

Moths exhibit a higher propensity to consume liquid substances derived from flower nectar, decaying fruit, honeydew, and sap, as well as fibres found in clothing.

Butterflies mostly ingest flower nectar, pollen, tree sap, fruit, and exudates from larger animals. Butterflies and moths have distinct dietary preferences during their mature stage.

During their caterpillar stage, these organisms employed their opposable mandibles equipped with teeth to effectively consume their food. In their mature stage, they subsist on liquid-based foods.

Both butterflies and moths possess a proboscis, which is an elongated appendage protruding from the insect’s head. The act of suction is employed by organisms to extract liquid from their sources of sustenance.


What Do Caterpillars Eat as Pets?

Caterpillars are not widely regarded as conventional pets, however, there are individuals who choose to maintain them in captivity.

It is vital to possess knowledge regarding the taxonomic classification of one’s pet caterpillar. By following this approach, you will have the ability to provide the appropriate nourishment to the plants.

Optimal nourishment is crucial for their thriving, as certain individuals may abstain from consuming any sustenance unless provided with their particular host plants.

To ensure proper hydration for a pet caterpillar, it is advisable to provide a substantial amount of moist food.

This entails providing a substantial amount of sustenance on a daily basis and promptly discarding deteriorated food items.

Ensuring the absence of pesticides on the meal is crucial, given their potential lethality to the caterpillar.


Read also: Caterpillars Have How Many Legs?


What Eats Caterpillars?

What Do Caterpillars Eat
Picture of a Spider Predating On a Caterpillar

Caterpillars are subject to predation by numerous natural enemies. This is attributed to their position at the lower trophic level, their limited mobility, and their high protein content.

Birds and insects are commonly regarded as the primary natural predators of caterpillars. The subsequent fauna species are widely recognized as the primary predators of caterpillars:

Caterpillars are readily located and captured by avian predators. Birds possess a heightened visual acuity and exhibit significantly greater agility in their movements compared to humans.

Caterpillars are regarded as a culinary delicacy in many nations, including China and Botswana, owing to their substantial protein and fat content.

Numerous predatory species employ caterpillars as a food source for their offspring. These comprise yellow jackets as well as many avian species, including woodpeckers and blue jays.

Nevertheless, several caterpillars have evolved defensive measures to safeguard themselves from potential predators.

Certain organisms possess the ability to conceal their appearance, while others are equipped with hair structures that elicit discomfort on the skin of potential predators.

Certain caterpillars employ dietary strategies as a means of self-preservation.


How Much Do Caterpillars Eat?

Caterpillars typically exhibit voracious feeding behaviours and possess robust appetites.

In certain instances, a caterpillar has the capacity to consume a sufficient quantity of food to undergo a twofold increase in its physical dimensions during a just 24-hour period.

Caterpillars often engage in continuous feeding during their active periods, provided that an ample food supply is present.

Naturally, the quantity of food consumed by a caterpillar exhibits variation both within and within species.

Nevertheless, many individuals have the ability to consume a really substantial quantity in proportion to their physical dimensions.

For instance, the larva of the monarch butterfly species exhibits the ability to consume a number of milkweed leaves that are equivalent to 200 times its own body weight in a span of two weeks or less.

In that duration, this amount is comparable to the intake of a neonate weighing 1,400 pounds.


Read also: Proven Ways on How to Get Rid of Tent Caterpillars



Caterpillars are frequently misidentified as worms, despite the fact that they are distinct entities.

While worms have the potential to either undergo metamorphosis and develop into beetles or remain in their worm form throughout their lifespan, caterpillars experience a process of metamorphosis that culminates in their transformation into either moths or butterflies.

The global population of species exceeds 20,000. All caterpillars undergo a developmental period known as the larva stage.

The larvae undergo metamorphosis and transition into pupae, ultimately reaching adulthood as either moths or butterflies. Thanks for reading!

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